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US Supreme Court Decision a “Roadmap” for a Ruling on Partisan Gerrymandering Case

Thu, 06/21/2018 - 15:11

A unanimous US Supreme Court handed down a decision in Gil vs. Whitford, a case challenging the extreme partisan gerrymandering of Wisconsin voting districts by the GOP legislature. The Court remanded the technical issue of “standing” back to the same three-judge panel that had ruled Wisconsin legislative districts unconstitutional. The Court did not rule on the merits, leaving the door open for a ruling that may still rein in computer-aided, hyper-partisan gerrymandering. Read the ruling here.

The ruling was described as a “punt” by some observers, but the lawyer representing disenfranchised Wisconsin voters is hopeful that the issue can be remedied and sent back to the court for a ruling on the merits. Advocates are hoping that Justice Anthony Kennedy, who has expressed concern about this type of gerrymandering may pave the way for a positive outcome.

Citing Kennedy, Justice Elena Kagan wrote in her concurrence that “partisan gerrymandering, as this Court has recognized, is ‘incompatible with democratic principles’… the practice enables politicians to entrench themselves in power against the people’s will.”

Paul Smith of the Campaign Legal Center argued the case before the Court on October 3, 2017. He explained the ruling at a press conference.

“The Court issued a unanimous decision saying that the plaintiffs did not yet prove they had standing to persue the gerrymandering claim… saying essentially that our theory of statewide vote dilution does not work under a standing law that does not produce a sufficiently ‘concrete and particularized’ injury for each of the plaintiffs,” said Smith. The Court said “you have to look at the issue on a district by district basis.”

The constitutional requirement of “standing” limits participation in lawsuits to those directly impacted. To have standing, a party must show an “injury in fact” to their own legal interests. The court effectively ruled that the lead plaintiff, William Whitford, lacked standing because he was not sufficiently harmed. Whitford, who lives in a Democratic district in Madison, was asserting a statewide harm, but the court said “[t]o the extent that the plaintiffs’ alleged harm is the dilution of their votes, that injury is district specific.”

According to Smith, “the basic bottom line is there will be plaintiffs with clear standing, there will probably be more added, and when we get back to the district court we should be in the position to win very substantial relief.”

Whitford: “We Have a Roadmap”

Whitford, a Professor of Law Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin who envisioned the case along with redistricting expert Wisconsin Rep. Fred Kessler, said he was both encouraged and discouraged by the decision.

“I am encouraged because here is no reason to think we can’t present the evidence about plaintiffs that the court seems to want… [A] number of the plaintiffs already can meet that burden,” he said.

But Whitford was discouraged by the long delay. “This case was filed in 2015. We have had two elections under what I think is a clearly unconstitutional apportionment already, that give the Democrats no chance of getting the majority, and have many negative consequences in terms of policy. I don’t know how long it is going to go on, but we need to keep in mind that it is important to have a new legislative districting before the 2020 elections. Those are very important elections because that legislature will participate in the redistricting after the new decennial census.”

“We have a road map forward. I don’t think we have any difficulty meeting the burdens that the court asked us to meet. Once we do that we may well be back in the Supreme Court within a few months,” Whitford said.

The case now goes back to the three-judge federal panel that determined that Wisconsin Republicans, using high-speed computer technology and tech savvy consultants, were able to craft maps to solidify their control of the legislature for a decade or more. Their ruling was the first time a federal court had rejected a voting map as an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander in 30 years.

Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel, whose office defended the gerrymandering case, issued a rather muted statement: “I am pleased that the highest court in the land has unanimously reversed the trial court’s erroneous decision invalidating Wisconsin’s Assembly map. Today is win for the rule of law in Wisconsin, and a testament to the talented attorneys at the Wisconsin Department of Justice.”

But Schimel’s statement was countered by others. “There is no vindication for the state’s rigging of the maps and disenfranchising of our voters” in the ruling said Sachin Chheda, spokesman for the Fair Maps Coalition and the Wisconsin Fair Elections Project.

Wisconsin activists won’t simply be waiting for the court to act. “Every one of us should be demanding that our legislators and our governor call special or extraordinary sessions to pass non-partisan independent redistricting reform now–before the 2018 and 2020 elections and before the next voting maps are drawn using 2020 Census data,” said Marla Stephens, a member of the Citizen Action of Wisconsin Organizing Cooperative in Milwaukee.

Senate Bill 13, introduced by Sen. Dave Hansen, and Assembly Bill 44, introduced by Rep. Don Vruwink, would give responsibility for drawing up new maps to the nonpartisan Legislative Reference Bureau. The bills are based on a successful model used in Iowa for thirty years.

Advocates for fair maps will be having a rally tomorrow at the Capitol Building in Madison at noon.

Multiple Partisan Gerrymandering Cases Keep the Issue Before the Court

The Court also ruled against challengers in another Maryland partisan gerrymandering case Benisek v. Lamone,denying their request for an injunction against the state’s 2011 congressional map but allowing it to go forward for trial. The next move by the Court will be a review of two North Carolina partisan gerrymandering cases next term, Rucho v. Common Cause and Rucho v. League of Women Voters of North Carolina.

“This is by no means the end of the road. The Supreme Court is still actively looking for the right case to establish a standard for what constitutes an unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering,” said Karen Hobert Flynn, president of Common Cause. “With Wisconsin and Maryland’s cases still alive, and Common Cause’s North Carolina case awaiting review by the Supreme Court, the fight to establish constitutional limits on partisan gerrymandering is very much alive.”

“While it’s disappointing to see the Court punt, the decisions aren’t losses,” said Michael Li, senior counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law. “Both cases go on, and the justices will have the chance to finally say something about when gerrymandering is illegal next term, in a case out of North Carolina with overwhelming evidence of how gerrymandering quashes voters’ voices.”

The post US Supreme Court Decision a “Roadmap” for a Ruling on Partisan Gerrymandering Case appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Trump’s Act of State Terrorism Against Children

Thu, 06/21/2018 - 15:02

State terrorism comes in many forms, but one of its most cruel and revolting expressions is when it is aimed at children.

Even though US President Donald Trump backed down in the face of a scathing political and public outcry and ended his administration’s policy of separating migrant children from their parents, make no mistake: His actions were and remain a form of terrorism.

That he was defiant until his back was against the wall points not only to a society that has lost its moral compass, but has also descended into such darkness that it demands both the loudest forms of moral outrage and a collective resistance aimed at eliminating the narratives, power relations and values that support it.

State violence against children has a long, dark history among authoritarian regimes.

Josef Stalin’s police took children from the parents he labelled as “enemies of the people.” Adolf Hitler, Francisco Franco and Augusto Pinochet all separated children from their families on a large scale as a way to punish political dissidents and those parents considered disposable.

Now we can add Trump to the list of the depraved.

Amnesty International called Trump’s decision to separate children from their parents and warehouse them in cages and tents for months as a cruel policy that amounts to “nothing short of torture.”

Many of the parents whose children were taken away from them entered the country legally, unwittingly exposing what resembles a state-sanctioned policy of racial cleansing. Allegations of abuse against the children while detained are emerging. And federal US officials have said despite Trump’s about-face, children who have already been separated from their parents — more than 2,000 of them — will not be reunited with them.

In any democratic society, the primary index through which a society registers its own meaning, vision and politics is measured by how it treats its children, and its commitment to the ideal that a civilized society is one that does everything it can to make the future and the world a better place for youth.

Abuse and Terror

By this measure, the Trump administration has done more than fail in its commitment to children. It has abused, terrorized and scarred them. What’s more, this policy was ludicrously initiated and legitimized by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a notorious anti-immigrant advocate, with a Bible verse that was used historically by racists to justify slavery.

In the name of religion and without irony, Sessions put into play a policy that has been a hallmark of authoritarian regimes.

At the same time, Trump justified the policy with the notorious lie that the Democrats have to change the law for the separations to stop, when in actuality the separations are the result of a policy inaugurated by Sessions under Trump’s direction.

Trump wrote on Twitter that the Democrats are breaking up families.

It is the Democrats fault for being weak and ineffective with Boarder Security and Crime. Tell them to start thinking about the people devastated by Crime coming from illegal immigration. Change the laws!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 18, 2018

Yet according to the New York Times:

Mr. Trump was misrepresenting his own policy. There is no law that says children must be taken from their parents if they cross the border unlawfully, and previous administrations have made exceptions for those travelling with minor children when prosecuting immigrants for illegal entry. A “zero tolerance” policy created by the president in April and put into effect last month by the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, allows no such exceptions, Mr. Trump’s advisers say.

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen actually elevated Trump’s lie to a horrendous act of wilful ignorance and complicity.

We do not have a policy of separating families at the border. Period.

— Sec. Kirstjen Nielsen (@SecNielsen) June 17, 2018

This is an extension of the carceral state to the most vulnerable groups, putting into play a punitive policy that signals a descent into fascism, American-style.

The New Yorker’s Marsha Gessen got it right in comparing Trump’s policies towards children to those used by Vladimir Putin in Russia, both of which amounts to what she calls “an instrument of totalitarian terror.”

Both countries arrest children in order to send a powerful message to their enemies. In this case, Trump’s message was designed to terrorize immigrants while shoring up his base, while Putin’s message is to squelch dissent in general among the larger populace. Referring to Putin’s reign of terror, she writes:

The spectacle of children being arrested sends a stronger message than any amount of police violence against adults could do. The threat that children might be removed from their families is likely to compel parents to keep their kids at home next time — and to stay home themselves.

Children Screaming for Their Parents

Within the last few weeks, heart-wrenching reports, images and audio have emerged in which children, including infants, were forcibly separated from their parents, relocated to detention centres under-staffed by professional caretakers and housed in what some reporters have described as cages.

The consequences of Trump’s xenophobia are agonizingly clear in reports of migrant children screaming out for their parents, babies crying incessantly, infants housed with teenagers who don’t know how to change diapers and shattered and traumatized families.

The Trump administration has detained more than 2,000 children. What’s more, the Trump administration has lost track of more than 1,500 children it first detained.

In some cases, it deported parents without first uniting them with their detained children. What is equally horrifying and morally reprehensible is that previous studies, such as those done by Anna Freud and Dorothy Burlingham in the midst of the Second World War, indicated that children separated from their parents suffered both emotionally in the short run and were plagued by long-term separation anxieties.

It’s no wonder the American Academy of Pediatrics referred to the Trump administration’s policy of separating children from their families as one of “sweeping cruelty.”

Trump has mobilized the fascist fervour that inevitably leads to prisons, detention centres and acts of domestic terrorism and state violence. Echoes of Nazi camps, Japanese internment prisons and the mass incarceration of Black and brown people, along with the destruction of their families, are now part of Trump’s legacy.

Shameless cruelty now marks the neoliberal fascism currently shaping American society. Trump used children as hostages in his attempt to implement his racist policy of building a wall on the US-Mexico border and to please his white supremacist base.

Trump’s racism was on full display as he dug in to defend this white supremacist policy.

Democrats are the problem. They don’t care about crime and want illegal immigrants, no matter how bad they may be, to pour into and infest our Country, like MS-13. They can’t win on their terrible policies, so they view them as potential voters!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 19, 2018

He likened migrants to insects or disease-carrying rodents. In the past, he has also called undocumented immigrants “animals.” This is a rhetoric with a dark past. The Nazis used similar analogies to describe Jews. This is the language of white supremacy and neo-fascism.

Long History in the US

But let’s be clear. While the caging of children provoked a great deal of moral outrage across the ideological spectrum, the underlying logic has been largely ignored.

These tactics have a long history in the United States, and in recent years have been intensified with the collapse of the social contract, expanding inequality and the increasing criminalization of a range of behaviours associated with immigrants, young people and those populations considered most vulnerable.

The horrible treatment of immigrant parents and children by the Trump regime signals not only a hatred of human rights, justice and democracy, it lays bare a growing fascism in the United States in which politics and power are now being used to foster disposability. White supremacists, religious fundamentalists and political extremists are now in charge.

It’s all a logical extension of his plans to deport 300,000 immigrants and refugees, including 200,000 Salvadorans and 86,000 Hondurans, by revoking their temporary protected status.

His cruelty is also evident in his rescinding of DACA for 800,000 so-called dreamers and the removal of temporary protected status for 248,000 refugees.

“Making America Great Again” and “America First” morphed into an unprecedented and unapologetic act of terrorism against immigrants. While the Obama administration also locked up the families of immigrants, it eventually scaled back the practice.

Under Trump, the savage practice accelerated and intensified. His administration refused to consider more humane practices, such as community management of asylum-seekers.

It all functions as short hand for making America white again, and signals the unwillingness of the United States to break from its past and the ghosts of a lethal authoritarianism.

Trump’s Admiration of Dictators

It’s also more evidence of Trump’s love affair with the practices of other dictators like Putin and now Kim Jong Un. And it signals a growing consolidation of power that is matched by the use of the repressive powers of the state to brutalize and threaten those who don’t fit into Trump’s white nationalist vision of the United States.

There is more at work here than the collapse of humanity and ethics under the Trump regime, there is also a process of dehumanization, racial cleansing and a convulsion of hatred toward those marked as disposable that echoes the darkest elements of fascism’s tenets.

The US has now entered into a new era of racial hatred.

What has happened to the children and parents of immigrants does more than reek of cruelty, it points to a country in which matters of life and death have become unmoored from the principles of justice, compassion and democracy itself.

The horrors of fascism’s past have now travelled from the history books to modern times. The steep path to violence and cruelty can no longer be ignored. The time has come for the American public, politicians, educators, social movements and others to make clear that resistance to the emerging fascism in the United States is not an option —but a dire and urgent necessity.

The post Trump’s Act of State Terrorism Against Children appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

How Donald Trump’s Trade Wars Could Lead to a Great Depression

Thu, 06/21/2018 - 15:00

Leaders are routinely confronted with philosophical dilemmas. Here’s a classic one for our Trumptopian times: If you make enemies out of your friends and friends out of your enemies, where does that leave you?

What does winning (or losing) really look like? Is a world in which walls of every sort encircle America’s borders a goal worth seeking? And what would be left in a future fragmented international economic system marked by tit-for-tat tariffs, travel restrictions, and hyper-nationalism? Ultimately, how will such a world affect regular people?

Let’s cut through all of this for the moment and ask one crucial question about our present cult-of-personality era in American politics: Other than accumulating more wealth and influence for himself, his children, and the Trump family empire, what’s Donald J. Trump’s end game as president? If his goal is to keep this country from being, as he likes to complain, “the world’s piggy bank,” then his words, threats, and actions are concerning. However bombastic and disdainful of a history he appears to know little about, he is already making the world a less stable, less affordable, and more fear-driven place. In the end, it’s even possible that, despite the upbeat economic news of the moment, he could almost singlehandedly smash that piggy bank himself, as he has many of his own business ventures.

Still, give him credit for one thing: Donald Trump has lent remarkable new meaning to the old phrase “the imperial presidency.” The members of his administration, largely a set of aging white men, either conform to his erratic wishes or get fired. In other words, he’s running domestic politics in much the same fashion as he oversaw the boardroom on his reality TV show The Apprentice.

Now, he’s begun running the country’s foreign policy in the same personalized, take-no-prisoners, you’re-fired style. From the moment he hit the Oval Office, he’s made it clear at home and abroad that it’s his way or the highway. If only, of course, it really was that simple. What he will learn, if “learning process” and “President Trump” can even occupy the same sentence, is that “firing” Canada, the European Union (EU), or for that matter China has a cost.

What the American working and the middle classes will see (sooner than anyone imagines) is that actions of his sort have unexpected global consequences. They could cost the US and the rest of the world big time. If he were indeed emperor and his subjects (that would be us) grasped where his policies might be leading, they would be preparing a revolt. In the end, they — again, that’s us — will be the ones paying the price in this global chess match.

The Art of Trump’s Deals

So far, President Trump has only taken America out of trade deals or threatened to do so if other countries don’t behave in a way that satisfies him. On his third day in the White House, he honored his campaign promise to remove the US from the Trans Pacific Partnership, a decision that opened space for our allies and competitors, China in particular, to negotiate deals without us. Since that grand exit, there has, in fact, been a boom in side deals involving China and other Pacific rim countries that has weakened, not strengthened, Washington’s global bargaining position. Meanwhile, closer to home, the Trump administration has engaged in a barrage of NAFTA-baiting that is isolating us from our regional partners, Canada and Mexico.

Conversely, the art-of-the-deal aficionado has yet to sign a single new bilateral trade deal. Despite steadfast claims that he would serve up the best deals ever, we have been left with little so far but various tariffs and an onslaught against American trading partners. His one claim to bilateral-trade-deal fame was the renegotiation of a six-year-old deal with South Korea in March that doubled the number of cars each US manufacturer could export to South Korea (without having to pass as many safety standards).

As White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders put it, when speaking of Kim Jong Un’s North Korea, “The President is, I think, the ultimate negotiator and dealmaker when it comes to any type of conversation…” She left out the obvious footnote, however: any type that doesn’t involve international trade.

In the past four months, Trump has imposed tariffs, exempting certain countries, only to re-impose them at his whim. If trust were a coveted commodity, when it came to the present White House, it would now be trading at zero. His supporters undoubtedly see this approach as the fulfillment of his many campaign promises and part of his classic method of keeping both friends and enemies guessing until he’s ready to go in for the kill. At the heart of this approach, however, lies a certain global madness, for he now is sparking a set of trade wars that could, in the end, cost millions of American jobs.

The Allies

On May 31st, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Rossconfirmedthat Canada, Mexico, and the EU would all be hit with 10% aluminum and 25% steel tariffs that had first made headlines in March. When it came to those two products, at least, the new tariffs bore no relation to the previous average 3% tariff on US-EU traded goods.

In that way, Trump’s tariffs, initially supposed to be aimed at China (a country whose president he’s praised to the skies and whose trade policies he’s lashed out at endlessly), went global. And not surprisingly, America’s closest allies weren’t taking his maneuver lightly. As the verbal abuse level rose and what looked like a possible race to the bottom of international etiquette intensified, they threatened to strike back.

In June, President Trump ordered that a promised 25% tariff on $50 billion worth of imported goods from China also be imposed. In response, the Chinese, like the Europeans, the Canadians, and the Mexicans, immediately promised a massive response in kind. Trump countered by threatening another $200 billion in tariffs against China. In the meantime, the White House is targeting its initial moves largely against products related to that country’s “Made in China 2025” initiative, the Chinese government’s strategic plan aimed at making it a major competitor in advanced industries and manufacturing.

Meanwhile, Mexico began adopting retaliatory tariffs on American imports. Although it has a far smaller economy than the US, it’s still the second largest importer of US products, buying a whopping $277 billion of them last year. Only Canada buys more. In a mood of defiance stoked by the president’s hostility to its people, Mexico executed its own trade gambit, imposing $3 billion in 15%-25% tariffs against US exports, including pork, apples, potatoes, bourbon, and cheese.

While those Mexican revenge tariffs still remain limited, covering just 1% of all exports from north of the border, they do target particular industries hard, especially ones that seem connected to President Trump’s voting “base.” Mexico, for instance, is by far the largest buyer of US pork exports, 25% of which were sold there last year. What its 20% tariff on pork means, then, is that many US producers will now find themselves unable to compete in the Mexican market. Other countries may follow suit. The result: a possible loss of up to110,000 jobsin the pork industry.

Our second North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) partner (for whose prime minister, Justin Trudeau, there is “a special place in hell,” according to a key Trumpian trade negotiator) plans to invoke tariffs of up to 25% on about $13 billion in US products beginning on July 1st. Items impactedrange“from ballpoint pens and dishwasher detergent to toilet paper and playing cards… sailboats, washing machines, dish washers, and lawn mowers.”Across the Atlantic, the EU has similarly announced retaliatory tariffs of 25% on 200 US products, including such American-made classics as Harley-Davidson motorcycles, blue jeans, and bourbon.

Trump Disses the Former G7

As the explosive Group of Seven, or G7, summit in Quebec showed, the Trump administration is increasingly isolating itself from its allies in palpable ways and, in the process, significantly impairing the country’s negotiating power. If you combine the economies of what might now be thought of as the G6 and add in the rest of the EU, its economic power is collectively larger than that of the United States. Under the circumstances, even a small diversion of trade thanks to Trump-induced tariff wars could have costly consequences.

President Trump did try one “all-in” poker move at that summit. With his game-face on, he first suggested the possibility of wiping out all tariffs and trade restrictions between the US and the rest of the G7, a bluff met with a healthy dose of skepticism. Before he left for his meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore, he even suggested that the G7 leaders “consider removing every single tariff or trade barrier on American goods.” In return, he claimed he would do the same “for products from their countries.” As it turned out, however, that wasn’t actually a venture into economic diplomacy, just the carrot before the stick, and even it was tied to lingering threats of severe penalties.

The current incipient trade war was actually launched by the Trump administration in March in the name of American “national security.” What should have been highlighted,however, was the possible “national insecurity” in which it placed the country’s (and the world’s) future. After all, a similar isolationist stance in the 1920s and the subsequent market crash of 1929 sparked the global Great Depression, opening the way for the utter devastation of World War II.

European Union countries were incredulous when Trump insisted, as he had many times before, that the “US is a victim of unfair trade practices,” citing the country’s trade deficits, especially with Germany and China. At the G7 summit, European leaders did their best to explain to him that his country isn’t actually being treated unfairly. As French President Emmanuel Macron explained, “France runs trade deficits with Germany and the United Kingdom on manufactured goods, even though all three countries are part of the EU single market and have zero tariffs between them.”

Having agreed to sign on to a post-summit joint statement, the president suddenly opted out while on his flight to Singapore, leaving his allies in the lurch (and subsequently slamming the Canadian prime minister as “very dishonest” and “weak”). In that communiqué, signed by the other six summit attendees, they noted, “We strive to reduce tariff barriers, non-tariff barriers, and subsidies… We acknowledge that free, fair and mutually beneficial trade and investment, while creating reciprocal benefits, are key engines for growth and job creation.”

The Pushback

The fallout domestically from the coming trade wars could be horrific if Trump truly makes good on his promises and refuses to back down, while the countries he’s attacking ratchet up their own responses, whether in terms of tariffs or simply a refusal to buy American goods. According to the US Chamber of Commerce, up to2.6 millionAmerican jobs could be threatened if, in the process, the US also withdraws from NAFTA.

Even American CEOs are now running scared of the CEO-in-chief. A recent survey conducted by the Business Roundtable lobby group, chaired by JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, revealed that their “economic outlook index” had declined this past quarter from a record high, the first drop in two years. According to the report, nearly two-thirds of the CEOs surveyed considered trade policy a “serious risk.” Rather than planning future corporate hiring sprees, as Trump might have us believe, theirfearsof future trade wars actually seem to be curtailing job-expansion plans.

European leaders at the G7 summit admitted that, despite their own role in escalating global trade tensions, the coming wars “would hurt everyone.” And therein lies the danger and the disconnect. Thanks largely to Donald Trump, the leaders of the key countries on the planet could now proceed to destroy trade relationships, knowing full well that the results will hurt their workers and damage the global economy.

A recent report by Andy Stoeckel and Warwick McKibbin for the Brookings Institution analyzed just such a future trade war scenario and found that, if global tariffs were to rise just 10%, the gross national product (GDP) of most countries would fall by between 1% and 4.5% — the US GDP by 1.3%, China’s by 4.3%. A 40% rise in tariffs would ensure a deep global recession or depression. In the 1930s, it was the punitive US Smoot-Hawley tariff that helped spark the devastating cocktail of nationalism and economic collapse that culminated in World War II. This time, who knows what The Donald’s tariffs will spark?

The End Game

When trade wars escalate and geopolitical tensions rise, economies can be badly damaged, leading to a vicious cycle of aggressive responses. And here’s the remarkable thing about the power of America’s imperial presidency in 2018: Donald Trump could unilaterally slow, alter, or under certain circumstances even shut down various elements of global trade — and if he manages to do so, there will be a price to pay in jobs and in this planet’s economic stability.

Catalyzed by tweets, denunciations, insults, and the tariff-first shots of his administration, our allies will undoubtedly try to trade more with each other to close gaps that his trade wars open. Ultimately, that will hurt the US and its workers, especially Trump’s base. For instance, German carmaker BMW, Japanese carmaker Toyota, and other foreign car companies employ 130,000 people in the United States. If, in response to new tariffs on their products, they were to begin moving their operations to France or Mexico in retaliation, it’s American workers who would lose out.

But make no mistake: American allies, who rely on the staggeringly powerful US market, will lose out, too. Weighed down by tariffs, their products will become less competitive here, which is what Trump wants. However, that won’t necessarily mean the end of trade deficits; it could just mean less trade everywhere, a situation that should bring to mind the global depression of the 1930s. And if you think Donald Trump is already a threat to world stability, imagine what might happen after years of economic duress. As was the case in the 1930s, when volatile conditions made it easier for dictators like Adolf Hitler to convince people that their economic woes stemmed from others, the path to a fire-and-fury world remains grimly open.

In Washington, Donald Trump’s unique version of the imperial presidency seems to be expanding to fill any void as alliances like the G7 that were once so crucial to the way the United States dominated much of the planet and its economy are being diminished. The question that should make anybody nervous is not yet answerable: What’s the end game?

The global economic system first put in place after World War II was no longer working particularly well even before President Trump’s trade wars began. The problem now is that its flaws are being exacerbated. Once it becomes too expensive for certain companies to continue operating as their profits go to tariffs or tariffs deflect their customers elsewhere (or nowhere), one thing is certain: it will get worse.

The post How Donald Trump’s Trade Wars Could Lead to a Great Depression appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

It’s All Pointless!

Thu, 06/21/2018 - 14:46

The post It’s All Pointless! appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Under the US Deportation Regime, Activists Are Policing Themselves

Thu, 06/21/2018 - 14:36

Last summer, I received a call from an unknown number. It was the Dearborn Police Department calling collect. I immediately panicked, deposited $10 via credit card into the calling system and waited for the phone call to connect. Except I was too late: The caller on the other line either became impatient or was not allowed to wait for me to fumble with a credit card number and an automatic phone system. I couldn’t figure out who was calling.

This made me panic even more. I called my brother, my mom, my dad and then went through a mental list of people who I know are undocumented and could be in trouble, knowing full well that the Dearborn Police Department sometimes holds people for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). When I couldn’t reach any of my family members, I sent a flurry of text messages, running through my head if I could remember where each of my family members was supposed to be at that time of day. After a few minutes that felt like hours, my parents and brother got back to me. They were OK.

I never did find out who called me from the Dearborn Police Department.

Many people wouldn’t associate a call from the police department with immigration; their minds wouldn’t automatically jump to “My family has been detained by ICE.” But when the threat of immigration detention looms over you every day, it’s hard not to continuously have it at the front of your mind.

Self-Policing and Reshaped Lives

Over the past year, the worst-case scenario that flashed through my mind the day I got that unexpected phone call has become a horrifying reality for thousands of people. Every day, there are new headlines about deported parents, US citizen children left behind and DACA recipients left in limbo. The fear of encounters with law enforcement — whether it be in the form of federal immigration enforcement or local officers deputized to enforce immigration rules — has led many people to reshape their lives.

In effect, the threat of policing has led people to police themselves, restricting their engagement in community. There are countless reports on the myriad ways in which individuals and families have adapted their behaviors, limiting activities that require driving or showing IDs, such as attending medical appointments, using nutrition programs or food banks, or even hesitating to report cases of sexual assault. These responses are not illogical. When communities cannot trust that their doctors, police officers, or even their neighbors and acquaintances will not turn them in to immigration, they must continuously monitor and surveil their own interactions and behavior. After all, everyday activities such as, driving to the store, dropping a child at school or going to court to report sexual assault could escalate to an immigration matter.

Immigration Status: A Conflict for Activists

While the everyday activities of immigrant parents and community members have long been sites of “self-policing,” a newer “risky behavior” leading to targeting by immigration enforcement has emerged in recent months: immigration activism. As we saw most recently in the deportation of immigrant rights’ activists Jean Montrevil to Haiti, and the detainment of Eliseo Jurado and Maru Mora-Villalpando, immigrant activists are specifically being targeted and deported. The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has expressed concern that these deportations are direct retaliations for the political work of these organizers. Whereas once it was understood among activist circles that sharing your story publicly and becoming an advocate for immigrant rights could offer you protection, that is no longer the case.

The threat of policing has led people to police themselves, restricting their engagement in community.

The pointed targeting of activists is forcing many undocumented organizers to reconsider how they resist and at what expense. A local community activist shared, “Now I am more reserved, because I don’t know where I’ll find myself. I don’t talk about it [being undocumented], really, I don’t. Before, I would yell it out loud, on TV; not anymore, because of the political climate. It affects my liberty. I don’t know who I am surrounded by, I don’t know who to trust, or to even say ‘I like organizing,’ because maybe people will automatically think that I don’t have documentation.”

Sara, who was an immigrant rights organizer for eight years in New Orleans before moving to Ypsilanti, Michigan, and taking a hiatus, echoed this sentiment. “A lot has changed,” said Sara, who asked to be identified by a pseudonym for fear of being outed as undocumented. “Before, people were afraid; now, there is terror. People are terrorized, they’re threatened. So much has changed. If people keep doing what they were doing before, now the consequences are much worse.”

Emphasizing how much crueler Trump’s administration has felt in its attitudes toward undocumented people, Sara explained that Trump’s administration uses fear to divide communities. She also expressed frustration about how people have become too isolated to organize effectively. “Every person is an island,” she told Truthout, adding that it’s both a problem of terror and of not being organized enough to defend each other.

Living under the shadows of immigration can indeed lead to social isolation and seclusion. However, it is important not to discount the role that fear and trauma play, and how they force communities to self-police for the sake of self-preservation. Instead, we must consider how to provide culturally appropriate mental health services to process high levels of stress and anxiety that can be associated with immigration-related trauma.

The pointed targeting of activists is forcing many undocumented organizers to reconsider how they resist and at what expense.

Unfortunately, the instability of the current immigration environment is leading even authorized immigrants and naturalized citizens to mistrust the relative security of their immigration statuses, and reviving the trauma of past immigration-related stresses. René is an immigrant advocate in Iowa who prefers not to share his full name because he is not a naturalized US citizen. He shared his story of accompanying an undocumented woman to her routine check-in appointment with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. He invited his organization’s administrative assistant, who is not an immigrant, to join them so they could feel more secure. “After the check-in, right before we got on the freeway to go home, a car from Homeland Security was behind us. I said, ‘Really, they’re already here?’ And you know, the car went a different direction, toward another town. But still, you’ve got that fear. It’s real.”

Meanwhile, Natalia Espina, a naturalized US citizen and activist in eastern Iowa, commented on the tension she feels between a duty to leverage her position as a naturalized citizen and the stress of reviving traumatic memories of times when her immigration status was insecure: I went through the immigration process for so long with my family,” she told Truthout. “It was a piece of my life that took so much time, energy and effort and did have mental health impacts. I feel like I have no choice but to act and speak out for other people, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy.”

She added that these days, now that she can safely accompany others to their ICE check-ins and the like, she still feels “that general insecurity of not knowing, like, Am I going to be questioned because I am Latina, because of my skin tone?

Even if someone is not currently experiencing an immigration crisis, living under the mere possibility of it adds a level of trauma, anxiety and stress.

Even more private elements of supporting undocumented friends and neighbors can trigger vigilance and stress for immigrants with more secure statuses. Natalia shared: “Recently, a woman called us; her friend had been detained and she was at the immigration court to pay the bond to get her friend out of detention. She is a US citizen — which is one proof of status acceptable for paying bond — and of course, she wanted to help her friend, but it was still totally nerve-wracking for her. She wasn’t sure if it would go on her record, or if it would count as ‘aiding and abetting’ or something like that, to participate in this routine part of the legal process. I wanted to tell her it was fine, but … you can’t be sure. I just told her, ‘You know, I worry about these things, too.'”

Impacts on Community Health and Well-Being

The self-policing of immigrant activists and advocates, described above, has far-reaching implications for their own health and for the strength and resilience of the communities they serve. They regularly encounter high-stakes decisions about how to engage as an activist, how to present oneself, and whether to put oneself in a potentially vulnerable circumstance (such as going to an ICE check-in or paying a bond). Living under the constant threat of deportation, or having past experiences of this threat, forces communities to live with an added layer of caution and vigilance. Even if someone is not currently experiencing an immigration crisis, living under the mere possibility of it adds a level of trauma, anxiety and stress.

The retaliation against social activists is reinforcing a pattern of self-vigilance, which in turn is hindering people’s involvement in social change.

As essential as exercising vigilance about one’s behavior and surroundings may be in the short-term, it does not come without a toll. There is growing evidence that persistent anticipation or preparation for racially charged encounters can wear on people’s minds and bodies over time, leading to depression, anxiety and PTSD, sleep difficulties, or even physiological changes that are linked to chronic disease.

Loss of Talent and Community Engagement

Participating in immigration activism or advocacy can be a powerful and empowering coping response — an intentional and pro-social way to channel the stress and frustration of living with persistent injustices. However, increasingly aggressive and high-profile immigration enforcement is changing the way in which immigrants interact in the world. The retaliation against social activists is reinforcing a pattern of self-vigilance, which in turn is hindering people’s involvement in social change. Our communities are losing talent, organizing skills and the voices and energy of many activists who are especially afraid of this administration, and with good reason.

When activists must limit their involvement due to the real risk of immigration enforcement — whether it be immigration retribution or not — our whole community loses. The vigilance being practiced by immigrant communities and immigrants’ right activists is an essential act of self-preservation in the face of real threats but will have enduring impacts on the health of our communities.

Note: Nicole Novak, Ph.D., M.Sc., contributed reporting for this article. She can be reached at nicole-novak@uiowa.edu.

The post Under the US Deportation Regime, Activists Are Policing Themselves appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

When the GOP Went Off the Rails

Thu, 06/21/2018 - 14:15
There is the history taught in schools that follows a self-aggrandizing narrative of the United States. Howard Zinn repudiated that jingoism in “A People’s History of the United States.” Now Kurt Andersen dissects how fantasy and hucksterism have historically shaped the United States through delusion in “Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire.” The following excerpt is from the modern era, “When the GOP Went off the Rails.”

As a thirteen-year-old, I watched William F. Buckley’s Firing Line with my dad, attended Teen Age Republican summer camp, and during the 1968 Nebraska primary campaign, at the behest of a Nixon campaign advance man in Omaha, furtively ripped down Rockefeller and Reagan signs. Three years later I was a McGovern campaign volunteer, but I still watched and admired Buckley on PBS. Today I disagree about political issues with friends and relatives to my right, but we agree on the contours of reality. I never really loathed any president (until now), and over the years I voted for a few Republicans for state and local office.

People on the left are by no means all scrupulously reasonable — many give themselves over to the dubious and untrue. But the politics of Fantasyland are highly asymmetrical. That is, starting in the 1990s, America’s unhinged right became much larger and more influential than its unhinged left. Moreover, it now has unprecedented power — as of 2016, effective control over much of the US government. Why did the grownups and designated drivers on the left manage to remain more or less in charge of their followers, while the reality-based right lost control to its fantasy-prone true believers?

One reason, I believe, is religion. The GOP is now quite explicitly Christian, the first time the United States has had such a major party. It is the American coalition of white Christians, papering over doctrinal and class differences — and now led, weirdly, by one of the least religious presidents in modern times. If more and more of a political party’s members hold more and more extravagantly supernatural beliefs, doesn’t it make sense that the party will be more and more open to make-believe in its politics and policy? The Southern Baptist minister and professor Roger Olson bemoans the fundamentalist takeover of evangelicalism. “An analogy,” he wrote recently, “is what has happened to the Republican Party,” where moderates were marginalized. But that isn’t just an analogous dynamic: the transformations of Christianity and of the political right happened simultaneously and amplified each other. I doubt the GOP elite deliberately engineered the synergies between the economic and religious sides of their contemporary coalition. But there it is nonetheless. As the incomes of middle- and working-class people flatlined, Republicans pooh-poohed rising economic inequality and insecurity; economic insecurity does correlate with greater religiosity; and for white Americans, greater religiosity does correlate with voting Republican. For Republican politicians and their rich-getting-richer donors, that’s a virtuous circle, not a vicious one.

Another main way fantasists took over the GOP is with the flowering of conspiracism I described in the preceding two chapters. After 9/11, more Democrats than Republicans believed that the Bush administration allowed or arranged the attacks. Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11, seen by twenty million Americans in theaters, nudged many liberals toward belief in an untrue conspiracy, but the mainstream left didn’t push that fantasy. America simply has many more fervid conspiracists on the right, as research about belief in particular conspiracies confirms again and again.

Richard Hofstadter argued in the 1960s and many others have since that the right is inherently more fertile ground for such paranoia. Maybe. In any case, only the American right has had a large and organized faction based on paranoid conspiracism for the last six decades. As the pioneer vehicle, the John Birch Society zoomed along and then sputtered out, but its fantastical paradigm and belligerent temperament has endured and reproduced in other forms and under other brand names. When Barry Goldwater was the right- wing Republican presidential nominee in 1964, he had to play down any streaks of Bircher madness, but in his 1979 memoir With No Apologies, he felt free to rave on about the globalist conspiracy’s “pursuit of a New World Order” and impending “period of slavery,” the Council on Foreign Relations’ secret agenda for “one-world rule,” and the Trilateral Commission’s plan for “seizing control of the political government of the United States.” The right had three generations to steep in this. Its exciting taboo vapors wafted more and more into the main chambers of conservatism, becoming familiar, seeming less outlandish. Do you believe that “a secretive power elite with a globalist agenda is conspiring to eventually rule the world through an authoritarian world government”? Yes, say 34 percent of the people who voted Republican in 2012.

Look at today’s John Birch website: its concerns and spin are unremarkably Republican — abolish the Fed, pull out of the UN, kill Common Core, give moral support to the latest martyred right-wing lawbreaker who can’t abide some government program or rule. Woodrow Wilson was in office when the Birch Society’s founder came of age, and he demonized Wilson ever after — “more than any other one man [he] started this nation on its present road to totalitarianism.” Which seemed quaint — until recently, when right-wingers like Glenn Beck revived that odd obsession with a president from a century ago.

Wilson pushed the League of Nations, the failed forerunner of the United Nations — and the UN, according to the far right in the 1950s and the mainstream right since the 1990s, is a headquarters of the globalist tyranny…. The Republican Party’s platform started depicting the UN as a bogeyman in 1996; the 2004 platform demanded that “American troops must never serve under United Nations command,” but that document still had lots of references to the UN’s utility and importance — the last one that did. (The 2016 GOP platform calls for a constitutional amendment to protect homeschooling “from interference by states, the federal government, or . . . the United Nations.”)

This is not just symbolic wankery. It has had effects in the real world. Take Agenda 21, for instance. In 1992 the UN held an Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro to start getting everyone on the same page concerning the environment and the new notion of sustainable development, especially concerning CO2 emissions. It adopted a voluntary blueprint called Agenda 21. And then nobody outside the environmental do-good sector paid attention. From 1994 to 2006, there was exactly one reference to Agenda 21 in The New York Times.

But then the far right discovered it — exposed it! — and refashioned Agenda 21 as a secret key to the globalist conspiracy. (Conspiracists love learning the names of little-known government programs, especially if they contain numbers — the air force’s Area 51, CIA’s Operation 40, Special Ops’ US war games in 2015 called Jade 15 — then repeating them until they become, dum-dum-dum, shorthand for shadowy evil.) By 2012, American right-wingers knew to be scared, very scared, of this vague, twenty-year-old international environmental plan. Agenda 21 and sustainable development, they say, were just totalitarianism and Communism by a different name. When the Obama administration created the White House Rural Council to promote economic development in places like Appalachia, a Fox News anchor warned that it was “eerily similar to a UN plan called Agenda 21, where a centralized planning agency would be responsible for oversight into all areas of our lives. A one-world order.” When Newt Gingrich was the front-runner for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination and mentioned it during a debate, applause prevented him from finishing the thought. At that moment, Beck had just published his dystopian novel Agenda 21, and on his TV program one of the main Agenda 21 hysterics provided a perfect glimpse into the conspiracist mind: “You’re not going to find anything that isn’t Agenda 21 these days…. People recognize many, many things that are wrong but they don’t realize that they’re all connected.”

By then, conservative activists all over the country were using Agenda 21 as the scary catchphrase to defeat ordinary county and city land-use plans, carbon-emission information programs, plans for high-speed trains, traffic decongestion, bike lanes, and home energy meters. The Republican National Committee called it a “comprehensive plan of … global political control” including “socialist/communist redistribution of wealth.” The last two GOP platforms have had anti-Agenda 21 planks, and a dozen state legislatures passed resolutions decrying it.

The post When the GOP Went Off the Rails appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

From New Orleans to the DNC, Pressure Builds to Cut Ties to Fossil Fuel Industry

Thu, 06/21/2018 - 14:13

On Saturday, June 16, the Democratic National Committee passed a resolution to ban contributions from all corporate PACs that advocate for the fossil fuel industry. The resolution was introduced by party activist Christine Pelosi, who urged her Democratic colleagues to pass the measure in an open letter, citing both “the alarming rates of environmental illness from asthma to cancer” and the “existential threat to our planet” posed by burning fossil fuels.

All across the country and the globe, members of religious, educational and governmental institutions are voting to cut their financial ties to the fossil fuel industry. Even in the state of Louisiana, which is responsible for a fifth of the nation’s oil and gas refining capacity, activists are beginning to push back against the omnipresent influence of the industry—which not only dominates the physical landscape with industrial facilities but also underwrites major cultural events, environmental restoration conferences and exhibits in science museums.

One such recent effort at resistance, New Orleans’ first-ever Fossil Free Fest, leveraged both art and activism. The seven-day festival was completely free, organized predominantly by women of color, and invited participants to “dig deep into the ethics and complexities of funding art and education with fossil fuel money.”

At the opening of the festival, one of its core organizers, artist and activist Imani Jacqueline Brown, remarked broadly about environmental racism and the urgent need to imagine how we might transition our society away from dependence on environmentally damaging fossil fuels. “The task of our time is to find our footing within this transition,” she said. “Where do we stand? And what are we going to do to ensure that this transition is just, is equitable, is sustainable?”

The festival kicked off with a series of weeknight documentary films, each one examining a different aspect of the fossil fuel industry’s impact on communities both locally and globally. On April 6, festivalgoers could opt to take a nature walk with botanist David Baker at Tulane’s wetlands-based Studio in the Woods, and on April 7, two buses took passengers on a guided tour of toxic sites just outside New Orleans city limits.

Halfway through the tour, Leon Waters, a longtime guide for Louisiana Hidden History Tours and the great-great-grandson of men and women enslaved on a nearby plantation, directed passengers to step off the bus and into the dank-smelling silence of an empty playground beside Shell’s refinery in the Diamond neighborhood of Norco, Louisiana.

The eerie late-morning quiet of the place, coupled with the crisp, brightly painted lines on a deserted basketball court and the great plumes of chemical steam issuing from the industrial plant behind it, combined to make the site feel like a kind of morbid, large-scale art installation.

Waters explained that a decade earlier, the empty playgrounds had been a heavily populated, thriving neighborhood. But when homeowners started getting sick, when their hedge roses began to wither and die, they began to organize demonstrations in nearby New Orleans against Shell. The air in their neighborhood, they’d learned, was polluted with benzene and methyl ethyl ketone, chemicals linked to the development of child leukemia and respiratory issues. Instead of curbing their toxic emissions, Shell offered homeowners meager compensation for their small homes, based on low property values. Once in possession of the neighborhood, Shell leveled everything and built three large playgrounds as a show of their corporate goodwill.

“The only time you see people over here now,” Waters said, “is when they’re cutting the grass.”

Following the tours, the remainder of the festival featured panel presentations and keynote speakers, poets and hip-hop artists, visual art installations and interactive workshops. Organizers designed the diverse schedule of programs to track through three main ideas: equity, complicity and action. In between musical performances and small-group breakout sessions, local restaurants and pop-up favorites like Black Swan Experience, Brown Girl Kitchen, Cafe Carmo and Shake Sugary served up free meals for participants all weekend long.

At the close of the festival on Sunday, held at a youth farm called “Grow Dat,” festival organizers encouraged those in attendance to think about concrete actions they could take to move our world away from fossil fuels. Standing in a circle beneath the overcast sky near a centuries-old live oak, participants pledged to educate their children, to cut back on their own personal carbon footprints, and perhaps most importantly, challenge their home institutions and organizations to take financial action against fossil fuel companies, whether by divesting or refusing their corporate contributions or sponsorship.

The festival was no less beautiful for these momentary breaks into organizing and action strategy. Visual art was omnipresent: A wall full of meticulously rendered ivory-billed woodpeckers, once-thriving members of the Louisiana ecosystem who have since gone extinct; a large painting of the wetlands done entirely out of paint made from spilled BP crude oil; and a mixed-media, solar-powered and rain-irrigated outdoor sculpture with live native vines twisting around globs of plastic refuse in a zigzagging network of metal pipes.

Rebecca Snedeker, the director of the New Orleans Center for the Gulf South at Tulane University and one of the panelists who spoke on Friday night, discussed the importance of art when considering topics as daunting as fossil fuel divestment, environmental racism and climate change. “Beauty,” she said, “can be a gateway into painful ideas.”

This concept came alive throughout the festival, perhaps most powerfully in Norco, at those deserted playgrounds backdropped by the disturbing dystopian wasteland of the Shell refinery.

And though you’d be hard-pressed to find beauty in the image of those grounded basketballs and billowing smokestacks, there was great beauty in the displaced community’s heroic resistance, in the gathering of people at the site of their pain and oppression, and especially in the powerful sense of connection between this local grassroots action and the nationwide movement toward imagining a more beautiful, fossil-free future for all.

The post From New Orleans to the DNC, Pressure Builds to Cut Ties to Fossil Fuel Industry appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

The GOP’s New Tax Plan: A Distraction That Could Throw the Midterm Elections

Thu, 06/21/2018 - 14:09

President Trump and conservative congressional leaders are talking up a new incarnation of their 2017 tax plan that they say would come to a vote in Congress before the midterm elections.

The plan would cost hundreds of billions of dollars and would enshrine a more unequal tax system permanently. The new version of the tax plan is meant to appeal to middle-income Americans, but like the original tax plan, its biggest rewards are for the richest 1 percent.

More than just a bad piece of legislation, the new tax plan is also meant as a distraction. It’s a showpiece that’s meant to throw the 2018 congressional election results. Instead of a midterm that’s about a grotesquely inhumane immigration policy, the opioid crisis, suicide epidemic or a tragic lack of good jobs across the country, Trump and his allies in Congress want Americans to focus on the one thing where they think they can flip the story to their advantage.

What Tax Plan Part II Would Do

Some of the tax cuts from the original plan passed in December are temporary — and that includes tax cuts for poor, working-class and middle-class Americans as well as cuts aimed at the wealthiest Americans. This has left conservatives in Congress open to criticism.

So, they’re now proposing to make many of the tax cuts permanent — something they didn’t originally do because of legal limits on how much the legislation could raise the national debt. (This is still a constraint, but one that they’re momentarily unconcerned with).

The temporary-to-permanent tax cuts include a lower tax rate for the wealthiest Americans and larger tax breaks for most taxpayers, including a larger standard deduction (that everyone gets) and a larger child tax credit for families with children. 

There’s also talk of new tax cuts in the second-wave bill, including cuts that benefit only the wealthiest Americans, such as cutting capital gains taxes that the wealthiest Americans pay on their investment earnings.

Doubling Down on Inequality

The original tax plan that passed in December and is now the law of the land featured tax cuts that favored the rich at the expense of working-class Americans, but some of its provisions expired after 10 years. The new tax plan promises to make those changes permanent.

If the new tax rules are made permanent, Americans in the bottom fifth of earners would actually pay higher taxes, while the richest 1 percent would get an average tax cut of $29,910.

If the new tax rules are made permanent, Americans in the bottom fifth of earners would actually pay higher taxes — an average of $50 more per year in 2026. Meanwhile, the richest 1 percent would get an average tax cut of $29,910. The tax cut for the richest 1 percent is more than twice the $14,000 in total annual earnings that the average family in the bottom 20 percent earns each year.

Extending the tax cuts would not only benefit the richest Americans most, it would enhance conservative claims that the United States can’t afford to fund things, such as health care, higher education, an economic safety net for struggling workers and investment in infrastructure. Extending tax provisions from the 2017 law could cost the United States an additional $650 billion over the next 10 years, in addition to the roughly $2 trillion the tax plan will already withhold from public coffers. Just like the original plan, the new tax plan would compromise government’s ability to provide programs and services that make life fairer and alleviate suffering.

Meanwhile, there are many better ways to create jobs than through tax cuts. In a 2011 study, economists found that tax cuts created fewer jobs than every investment studied, except for the military. Investments in education, health care and clean energy all created more quality jobs than tax cuts did.

Whatever Happened to Infrastructure?

While conservatives in Congress fuss over their tax bill, Americans from rural towns to big cities struggle with unsafe drinking water, an opioid crisis and suicide epidemic, and jobs that don’t pay the bills.

Why won’t congressional leaders address the country’s real problems?

The United States has a $2 trillion gap in infrastructure funding over the next 10 years. Coincidentally, this is about the same as the cost of the existing tax plan over the same time period. One in 20 Americans drinks water from a supply that violates health standards, but each dollar in tax cuts is a dollar that can’t be used to address unsafe drinking water in Flint, Michigan, and thousands of other cities. That $2 trillion infusion into infrastructure could create something like 3.6 million jobs over the next 10 years.

Extending tax provisions from the 2017 law could cost the United States an additional $650 billion over the next 10 years.

Broadly speaking, infrastructure could include everything from safe drinking water systems to public health and job training. Public health investments are desperately needed to address both the opioid crisis and higher rates of suicide. And while official unemployment rates are low, wages are also low. Using the Census’s alternative poverty measure that takes into account not just income but expenses, 43 percent of Americans are low-income. A federal jobs program (or even a job guarantee) could go a long way toward lifting working Americans into the middle class.

None of these ideas for investing in the US are on the table, however. Instead of building the country up, the GOP just wants to redistribute wealth upward.

A Political Ploy to Divide Us

Sen. Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican and noted Trump critic who has opted not to run for re-election, has called the new bill a “show vote.” And he’s right.

Due to pre-existing legislation meant to control the national debt, the original tax package was able to pass the Senate with 50 votes rather than 60 only because the expiration of some tax cuts kept the plan’s costs down. But the Senate isn’t invoking the legislative procedure that let them pass a bill with 50 votes, meaning they would need nine Democrats to support any new legislation to get to 60 votes. That support is not forthcoming.

The reason is simple: The new tax legislation is meant only to gin up support among the conservative base and swing voters who haven’t read the tax legislation’s fine print before the midterm elections. Holding a show vote on another tax bill allows conservatives to avoid the topics they don’t want to talk about: namely, immigration and the fact that fundamental problems with our economic system mean that years after the end of the Great Recession, far too many Americans are still struggling to make ends meet.

The proposed tax plan won’t solve the problems plaguing the US. It will only double down on a tax policy that worsens inequality, bankrupts public coffers so that real solutions remain out of reach, and possibly allows conservatives to maintain control of the House and Senate. The timing of this legislation is no mistake. Americans shouldn’t take the bait.

The post The GOP’s New Tax Plan: A Distraction That Could Throw the Midterm Elections appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Trump Ends Family Separations by Detaining Whole Families Indefinitely

Wed, 06/20/2018 - 20:02

Just after noon Eastern Time today, on World Refugee Day, the president of the United States got small in his hole and backed down on his vicious policy of separating children from their families at the US/Mexico border. Appearing before a restive gaggle of reporters, Donald Trump announced he would be “signing something” later in the afternoon to effectively end the separation practice. A few hours later, the executive order ending family separations was signed.

The executive order, it is important to note, does not end the “zero-tolerance” policy that created this debacle in the first place. Migrants trying to cross the border illegally will still be arrested but will not have their children taken away. More ominously, the order’s method for keeping families together involves ending the ban on imprisoning children for no more than 20 days, which means the children will be subject to indefinite detention along with their parents.

“The order,” according to The New York Times, “would keep families together, though it is unclear how Mr. Trump intends to claim the legal authority to violate what have been legal constraints on the proper treatment of children in government custody, which prevented former President Barack Obama from detaining families together during a similar flood of illegal immigration two years ago.”

In doing this, Trump is attempting a mighty straddle: He is trying to defuse what has become a caustic political crisis by ending family separations, but at the same time is trying to retain the veneer of toughness adored by his supporters by keeping the zero-tolerance policy still fully in place. All of these migrants are still getting locked up, including the children, indefinitely. The only difference is they will be together when the cage doors close. It is the living definition of “cold comfort.”

As for the thousands of children who have already been separated from their parents, no immediate solution has been presented. The Trump administration has no plan for them. “No protocols have been put in place for keeping track of parents and children concurrently,” writes Jonathan Blitzer for The New Yorker, “for keeping parents and children in contact with each other while they are separated, or for eventually reuniting them. Immigration lawyers, public defenders, and advocates along the border have been trying to fill the void.”

Any actual solution to the overall crisis will have to come from Congress, which makes the achievement of a solution a very unsure thing. There are a number of immigration bills rattling around the Republican side of the House at present — some addressing the fate of the DREAMers and Trump’s border wall, some not — but the GOP is bitterly divided, even splintered, over the immigration issue in general. The last thing the Republicans wanted was an immigration brawl on the doorstep of the midterm elections, but that is exactly what this Republican president has given them.

Like as not, they would have been able to put together narrowly focused legislation meant to stop family separations had this executive order not come along, and they may still have to if Trump’s order runs afoul of existing law. Any larger legislation will come at a painful price for the Republicans, politically speaking, but they may no longer be able to dodge the issue as they have been for so long now.

Trump’s bewildering decision to pick this fight caused an eruption of raw emotion across the country and the world, with an intensity rarely seen in modern politics. Images and audio of frantic toddlers being taken from their mothers brought together religious leaders of every stripe, along with ordinary people all across the political spectrum, who were horrified at what was being done in their name. Prominent Republicans in the media are leaving the party and very publicly endorsing Democrats.

The number of people who support the practice, according to multiple polls, stood around 25 percent, which is a meager three points higher than George W. Bush’s exact approval rating on his last day in office. That is some pretty gruesome company to be keeping, and there is no telling how damaging the fallout from all this will be in the days and weeks to come. That anger, interestingly enough, may be harshest from those who supported this policy, and who now think the president spit the bit just when everything was, to their thinking, going so well.

Conversely, a lot of people who supported Trump were forced to take a long, hard look in the mirror as this calamity unspooled, and a great many of them did not like what they saw. Whether they take those bad feelings out on Trump, or take refuge in the inevitable spin to come, remains to be seen. Politically speaking, this was one of the largest, most ridiculous unforced errors in the history of the country. Despite all preposterous claims to the contrary, Donald Trump did this to himself.

It must also be noted that, in point of fact, no executive order was needed to put an end to this disgraceful policy. Trump only needed to call his attorney general and say, “Enough.” Instead, in his usual boorish style, he attempted with this order to control what has become a ruinous narrative and seem the hero in all this. Few beyond the confines of his cheering squad at Fox News appear to be buying it, however. It is all just too gruesome.

One thing is certain: Trump is in retreat. Migrants at the southern border still have no idea what tomorrow will bring, but their children will be with them when it comes.

The post Trump Ends Family Separations by Detaining Whole Families Indefinitely appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Seymour Hersh on Torture at Abu Ghraib and Secret US Assassination Programs

Wed, 06/20/2018 - 15:48

In 2004, investigative reporter Sy Hersh exposed the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal in Iraq that shocked the world. Shocking photos of US military personnel humiliating and torturing Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib sparked global outcry, as well as national hearings, investigations and finger pointing. We speak with Sy Hersh about his investigation, nearly 15 years later.

Please check back later for full transcript.

The post Seymour Hersh on Torture at Abu Ghraib and Secret US Assassination Programs appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Seymour Hersh: Media Today Must Cover Yemen and Trump Policy, Not Get Distracted by Tweets

Wed, 06/20/2018 - 15:47

“Our Country’s biggest enemy is the Fake News,” President Trump tweeted last week, in his latest attack on the nation’s press. A week earlier, federal prosecutors revealed they had secretly captured years’ worth of phone and email data from journalist Ali Watkins, who broke several high-profile stories related to the Senate Intelligence Committee. A former top aide on the committee, James Wolfe, has been charged with lying to the FBI about his contacts with the press. Meanwhile, Reporters Without Borders recently dropped the United States to number 45 in its annual ranking of press freedom. When the group first published its list in 2002, the United States came in at number 17. We speak with the nation’s best-known investigative journalist, Seymour Hersh. He has a new book out looking back on his more than half-century of scoops and digging up secrets. It’s titled “Reporter: A Memoir.”

Please check back later for full transcript.

The post Seymour Hersh: Media Today Must Cover Yemen and Trump Policy, Not Get Distracted by Tweets appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

After Tax Cuts for Richest, House GOP Unveils $5.4 Trillion Attack on Nation’s Safety Net

Wed, 06/20/2018 - 14:53

With the nation’s attention rightly fixated on President Donald Trump’s horrific treatment of immigrant children, House Republicans on Tuesday quietly unveiled their 2019 budget proposal that calls for $537 billion in cuts to Medicare, $1.5 trillion in cuts to Medicaid, and four billion in cuts to Social Security over the next decade in an effort to pay for their deficit-exploding tax cuts for the wealthy.

“It’s morally bankrupt, patently absurd, and grossly un-American,” the advocacy group Patriotic Millionaires said of the GOP’s budget proposal, which calls for $5.4 trillion in spending cuts from major domestic programs.

This budget is out of touch and cruel to the most vulnerable Americans #FY19Budgethttps://t.co/lN1X6zuLeZ

— Patriotic Millionaires (@PatrioticMills) June 19, 2018

Robert Greenstein, president of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), argued in a statement that the Republican proposal demonstrates clearly shows the “House majority’s fiscal priorities haven’t changed.”

“It’s easy to become numb to the harshness of these budgets and to brush aside their policy implications based on the assumption (likely correct) that few, if any, of these policies will be enacted this year,” Greenstein said. “But this budget reflects where many congressional leaders—and the president—would like to take the country if they get the opportunity to enact these measures in the years ahead. Rather than help more families have a shot at the American dream, it asks the most from those who have the least, and it would leave our nation less prepared for the economic and other challenges that lie ahead.”

Progressives have been warning for months about the GOP’s plan to axe crucial safety net programs following the passage of its deeply unpopular $1.5 trillion tax bill, which has sparked a boom of corporate stock buybacks while doing little to nothing for most American workers.

“Each GOP budget is more fraudulent than the last,” Seth Hanlon, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, wrote on Tuesday. “We know what they stand for: tax cuts paid for with healthcare cuts.”

In addition to proposing devastating safety net cuts, the House GOP budget also calls for partial privatization of Medicare and the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, a move that would throw tens of millions off their health insurance.

“The 2019 Republican budget scraps any sense of responsibility to the American people and any obligation to being honest,” Rep. John Yarmuth (D-KY), the ranking member on the House Budget committee, said in a statement on Tuesday. “Its repeal of the Affordable Care Act and extreme cuts to healthcare, retirement security, anti-poverty programs, education, infrastructure, and other critical investments are real and will inflict serious harm on American families.”

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Categories: News

Defenders of Democracy

Wed, 06/20/2018 - 14:48

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Categories: News

US Leaves UN Human Rights Council

Wed, 06/20/2018 - 14:42

On Tuesday, the United States withdrew from the United Nations Human Rights Council, according to an announcement made by UN Ambassador Nikki Haley and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

“I want to make it crystal clear that this step is not a retreat from our human rights commitments,” she said. “On the contrary. We take this step because our commitment does not allow us to remain a part of a hypocritical and self-serving organization that makes a mockery of human rights.”

The move is indeed a political protest, one made to further secure the loyalty of Israel, a chronic human rights violator by most accounts. In addition to the perceived bias against Israel, Haley cited the council’s alleged hypocrisy among varying governments.

“When we made it clear we would strongly pursue council reform, these countries came out of the woodwork to oppose it,” she said. “Russia, China, Cuba and Egypt all attempted to undermine our reform efforts this past year.”

According to the Washington Post, the United States could have stayed on the Council as a nonvoting observer. Indeed, its decision to fully withdraw appears to be a rebuke of the council, in that it withdraws the US’s ability to take a front seat in important global issues.

Pompeo was just as critical of the council in the announcement. He said it is an “exercise in shameless hypocrisy, with many of the world’s worst human rights abuses going ignored, and some of the world’s most serious offenders sitting on the council itself.”

“The only thing worse than a council that does almost nothing to protect human rights is a council that covers for human rights abuses, and is therefore an obstacle to progress and an impediment to change,” he said.

The irony of the announcement — coming, as it were, in the wake of revelations that the United States government systematically imprisoned migrant children and traumatically separated them from their families, in some cases falsely telling parents their children were merely taken away from them to be bathed — was lost on Pompeo and Haley.

Indeed, the announcement comes one day after Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, slammed the US for its zero-tolerance policy at the US-Mexico border that has been separating migrant children from their parents.

“The only thing worse than a council that does almost nothing to protect human rights is a council that covers for human rights abuses, and is therefore an obstacle to progress and an impediment to change,” he said.

The US has been part of the council in its current form since 2009.

“Human rights are an essential element of American global foreign policy,” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in a statement at the time of the announcement. “With others, we will engage in the work of improving the UN human rights system. . . . We believe every nation must live by and help shape global rules that ensure people enjoy the right to live freely and participate fully in their societies.”

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Categories: News

Child Abuse at the Border: We Must Stop This Monstrosity

Wed, 06/20/2018 - 14:23

The ongoing humanitarian catastrophe unfolding at the US-Mexico border has, at long last, motivated the staid and steady purveyors of “on-one-hand-but-on-the-other-hand” journalistic “balance” to forego their usual milquetoast approach to matters of consequence.

The corporate news media have been pulling no punches in their coverage of children being forcibly separated from their parents and caged like dogs. They have been calling the president of the United States a liar, out loud and in broad daylight, for the first time since this garbage barge of an administration put to sea. They are calling the whole thing “child abuse,” and justly so.

The news broadcast on Monday night badly frightened my daughter, who saw everything unfolding on the television. Too young to understand the gulf standing between her security as a white US citizen and the shattering insecurity endured by the migrants she was seeing, she spent the remainder of the evening convinced Donald Trump was going to come and take her away from us. She slept with Mommy and Daddy that night, and was still jumpy in the morning.

Seeing these images unnerve a non-immigrant child who is 2,000 miles away from the scene of the crime gave me a new and galling perspective on the incalculable psychic trauma experienced by all the children who are closer to the vortex of our president’s racist policy.

Satsuki Ina is a psychotherapist who works at detention centers like the ones currently imprisoning the children taken from their migrant parents. Ina, who is of Japanese descent, was born in the Tule Lake Segregation Center in California during World War II after her parents were arrested for being Japanese.

The camp was, in fact, a maximum-security prison with more than a thousand armed guards and eight battle tanks. When Ina’s father spoke up to demand his Constitutional rights as a citizen, he was charged with sedition by the US government and taken away to a different prison camp in North Dakota. She did not see him again for years.

In an interview with Splinter News, Satsuki Ina explained, as a psychotherapist and as a survivor of government detention, the effects of the detention/separation experience on children:

One of the worst traumas for children is to be separated from their caregivers and then placed in what they’re calling “temporary detention facilities.” But it’s indefinite detention—they have no idea how long they’re going to be held. They have no idea if they’ll ever see their parents again.

That level of anxiety causes tremendous emotional stress, and we know from the research in neuroscience that constant release of these stress hormones can affect a child’s ability to learn, a child’s ability to self-manage, to regulate themselves. This kind of treatment has consequences for a lifetime for a child. The trauma effect is pretty severe when there’s been captivity trauma.

Trump and his defenders have been quick to blame immigrant parents for bringing their children north. It’s a facile bit of pushback that underscores the galloping ignorance of those at the highest levels of government and highlights a generalized ignorance within the population of just exactly what is going on at the border and beyond.

People don’t expose their children to the risks of a long, perilous and uncertain journey at a whim. Most of them do so because the circumstances in their home countries are intolerably dangerous; Honduras, for one example, has one of the highest murder rates in the world for a country not at war, because of unchecked gang violence and the aftermath of generations of deeply damaging US policies in South and Central America.

For these parents, the choice between staying, going north and leaving their children behind in a cauldron of peril, or going north together as a family, is no choice at all. By bringing their children to the US to seek a better life far away from the mayhem at home, they are making the most responsible choice they have available to them, one that has been made time and again throughout our history.

White people in the US, whose European ancestors brought their kids along when they risked an Atlantic Ocean crossing to escape famine and war in countries like Ireland and Germany, should be greeting these migrant families with respect born of familiarity, not with violent disdain. When officials like Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen refer to the victims of Trump’s new border policy as “alien children,” however, dehumanizing them becomes far easier. When the president calls them “animals” who “infest” the country, it becomes easier still. Alien, animal, different, not us: dismissed.

This is not an accident.

“When thousands of Japanese Americans were being removed from their classrooms, from their jobs, and their neighborhoods, there was no outcry,” said Satsuki Ina in her Splinter News interview. “No one instituted any kind of protest. And there was no press or organized effort to stand up for the Japanese-Americans because it was war time. We are currently in a war-like situation in that immigrants are seeking safety, and they have been characterized as criminals and rapists.”

Donald Trump can end this monstrosity today with a single phone call. He won’t, because he fears looking weak in the eyes of the people he rode to power by stoking their nativist hatred. He won’t, until he is forced to. We must be that force, today, right now.

This situation has me so furious, as a father and as a human being, that I have literally found it difficult to think straight. I know this much, however: How we choose to deal with the immigrant families at the border will define us, for good or ill, generations hence. There is no escaping this. We stand upon the fulcrum of history as the weakest among us dangle on the edge of despair.

This is what fascism looks like. We must fight it. We cannot fail these children. We cannot fail ourselves.

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Categories: News

ALEC’s Deadly Asbestos Agenda Benefits Koch Industries, Nationwide

Wed, 06/20/2018 - 14:13

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) named Missouri Republican state Rep. Bruce DeGroot as a “Legislator of the Week” in June.

Why is ALEC so fond of DeGroot? Because he has cheerfully championed ALEC legislation to restrict the right of terminally ill, asbestos victims to sue over mesothelioma. In doing so, DeGroot is helping the many US companies, including ALEC funders Koch Industries and Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company, that have asbestos-related liability.

Nationwide, Not on Your Side

Mesothelioma is an aggressive type of lung cancer caused by exposure to asbestos. Even though the dangers of deadly asbestos have been known for over 100 years, industry worked hard to bury evidence that workers were being harmed by asbestos exposure. Three thousand people are diagnosed each year with mesothelioma in the United States and most die within a year or two. Most victims are public servants, veterans, firefighters, even teachers exposed to asbestos in schools.

In addition to being an ALEC politician, Degroot is an attorney for an insurance defense firm, Brown & James, which represents dozens of insurers who, in turn, have as clientscompanies responsible for mesothelioma-related claims. One of the firm’s clients is Nationwide. Sources tell the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) that Nationwide was actively pushing the bill in Missouri, although it was not publicly listed as a supporter of the bill.

In many states, a legislator who introduced a bill benefitting his firm’s clients could face ethics charges or worse. In Missouri, “it is unseemly, to say the least, and one of the reasons we need ethics reform in this state,” said deputy director Sharon Geuea Jones of the Missouri Association of Trial Lawyers.

Nationwide has long been a corporate sponsor of ALEC. In 2014 and 2015, for example, Nationwide incurred asbestos-related losses of $148 million and $98 million respectively, giving it one of the largest asbestos liabilities of any insurer for those years, according to Casualty Actuaries of Greater New York.

ALEC Protections for Asbestos Companies

At ALEC, corporate lobbyists and politicians vote as equals behind closed doors on “model” bills that advance corporate interests over consumers’ interests. DeGroot’s bill, HB 1645 or “The Asbestos Transparency Act,” bears a striking similarity to ALEC’s “Asbestos Claims Transparency Act.” The Missouri House passed the bill in March, but the Senate has yet to take action.

The bill would force victims of asbestos to search out bankrupt companies that made asbestos, not just companies still in business. The problem for the injured is that many companies that made asbestos or had asbestos products have sought bankruptcy protection and are now in trusts. These trusts are more difficult to sue, their assets are harder to determine, and the victims often die before their case is heard. The bill would also limit the time victims have to bring a case after diagnosis, even though it takes more time to prepare for a suit against bankrupt companies.

DeGroot can’t say enough about how awesome ALEC’s cookie-cutter corporate legislation is. “ALEC and ALEC model policy are a great resource. ALEC was able to put me in touch with an expert who was willing to travel to Missouri to testify in support of one of the bills I filed, Asbestos Transparency Trust,” DeGroot said in an ALEC interview.

That “expert” was Mark Behrens, a partner of the Kansas City law firm Shook, Hardy & Bacon. The firm has a national reputation for representing deadly industries like Big Tobacco. Behrens travels around the country lobbying on behalf of ALEC’s many asbestos bills, but tells the public that he is representing other clients like the US Chamber Institute for Legal Reform.

Emotional Floor Debate

A cheerful DeGroot opened floor debate saying inaccurately that the bill simply stopped “double dipping” by asbestos victims, but the issue quickly turned emotional.

The first legislator to speak was Republican Rep. Steve Cookson, who is suffering from liver cancer. “I have been up here for eight years and most bills that we talk about are about protecting somebody’s money.… This bill is designed to protect out of state companies and insurance companies.”

Cookson went on to say that in the past he had been supportive of some tort reform bills. “I reflect back now, and you know I have a personal situation going on right here. I think a lot more about life and death. I would ask you, did you ever contemplate the way you want to die?” he asked of DeGroot.

“Well that is a bit personal,” responded DeGroot with a nervous laugh.

“Well, so do you want to die a slow death where you lay there in the bed and suffocate to death?” asked Cookson.

“I wouldn’t like that, no,” said Degroot.

Cookson went on to say that for the time he had left in the legislature, he wanted to make sure he was on the side of those “laying in the hospital for a long long time suffering, surrounded by their families…. I can’t bring myself to be in support of anything that would compromise a person’s ability to be made whole, and their family to be made whole because they had to leave this world in a horrible fashion in an abbreviated time they would have been expected to live.”

The ALEC bill offered by DeGroot would mean that many victims would not live to see their day in court. As one opposing legislator, Rep. Jay Barnes explained, “the best evidence in an asbestos case is the plaintiff, and when they die, that goes away.”

Similar bills based on the ALEC model have passed in 15 states: Ohio, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Arizona, Texas, Utah, Tennessee, South Dakota, North Dakota, Iowa, Mississippi, Michigan, Kansas, and North Carolina.

Koch Industries Limits Its Exposure to Mesothelioma Lawsuits

Koch Industries is the largest privately held company in America, with multiple subsidiary firms. When Koch acquired the paper company Georgia-Pacific LLC in 2007, it also became responsible for Bestwall LLC, which up until 1977 made a joint compound that contained asbestos. And because mesothelioma symptoms only appear after 10 to 50 years, Koch knew that when it purchased Georgia-Pacific, it also became responsible for thousands of asbestos lawsuits.

Koch Industries is a big financial supporter of ALEC and has served on the ALEC private enterprise board for many years, including in 2007 when the ALEC board approved the Asbestos Claims Transparency Act. Subsequently, in 2017, Koch Industries put Bestwall into bankruptcy to limit its exposure to mesothelioma lawsuits.

An affiliate of Koch’s Georgia-Pacific, Bestwall, joined “scores of US manufacturers that have filed for bankruptcy due to asbestos litigation, and comes as the US Congress mulls a bill that plaintiffs’ lawyers say would discourage asbestos claims,” wrote Reuters. The misnamed FACT Act is supported by ALEC, the US Chamber of Commerce, and companies with billions of dollars of liability for asbestos claims, including Koch Industries.

Koch now argues that Bestwall was only a minor user of asbestos, but construction workers were exposed to multiple sources of asbestos, and since many of the responsible parties no longer exist, victims’ lawyers are forced to sue more than one company.

Koch complains it is spending $160 million a year defending its subsidiary against asbestos lawsuits. It could have set up a trust fund from the beginning when it acquired Bestwall to pay victims with that money instead of fighting every lawsuit, and is now slowing the process by putting the company into bankruptcy.

Americans for Tax Fairness estimates that the Kochs will get $1.4 billion from the Jobs and Tax Cut Act of 2017, money that could be used to pay asbestos victims before they die.

Instead, Koch and its allies are working hard to pass laws that run out the clock.

Listen to the Missouri floor debate here.

The post ALEC’s Deadly Asbestos Agenda Benefits Koch Industries, Nationwide appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

The Nightmare Is Now: Stolen Children in a Country of Cages

Wed, 06/20/2018 - 13:59

Amid the widespread outrage over a recently released audio recording of immigrant children crying for their parents at the border, there has been great discussion of the larger historical legacy of child separation in the United States. Those are important conversations, and they should continue. But we must also discuss the fact that those cries are not just an echo of this country’s history, but also an echo of an unexamined present. No person of conscience could hear those cries of “mamá” and “papá” — the cries that a border patrol agent jokingly referred to as “an orchestra” — without feeling called to action. But we must remember that the frightened pleas of the children ripped from their parents echo the cries of children across the United States who have been robbed of their parents through deportation raids, or by local police who play the role of slave catcher for the state.

Understanding these connections is not about pulling the current crisis out of focus. It is about recognizing that this travesty is not occurring in a vacuum — and that you cannot understand a crisis by examining one frame of a story. This administration is snatching children at the border and holding them for ransom to fund Trump’s wall, but it is also criminalizing their parents. With the political tide turning against heavy sentences for “nonviolent drug offenses,” the prison-industrial complex is hungry. Prison contractors have long seen immigration detention as a growth industry. This isn’t just about walls or border politics or immigration laws. It’s also about cages, and how those who profit from them can keep them full.

Amid all the discussion of freeing those children, we aren’t talking nearly enough about the fact that their parents are being criminally prosecuted, or what that means in the larger context of the carceral state. With an alarmed public demanding reunification, some Republicans are conjuring their own “solutions,” with legislation calling for more family detention centers (a vile form of incarceration that active communities have long fought to dismantle). The risk that some who cannot bear the thought of these separations will endorse catastrophic solutions is real.

We must challenge our communities to broaden their empathy and remember that they, too, have turned away from the cries of children.

Let’s also keep in mind that narrative efforts that divide children seized by border control from other immigrants around the country, who are likewise faced with separations, incarceration, and a climate of panic and fear, are already being weaponized against other vulnerable people. Those who would separate families, cage parents and children — and extract profit and resource in the process — believe we can’t care about more than one thing, more than one place or more than one group of people at a time. We can prove them wrong by seeing and discussing historical connections and by exposing this country’s system of cages for the continuum of bondage that it is.

Children whose parents are caged in county jails and state prisons have also cried out for their parents. Children who’ve been thrust into carceral “homes” within the foster care system have likewise cried out. And the cries of children whose parents have been murdered by the state are unending. We must challenge our communities to broaden their empathy and remember that they, too, have turned away from the cries of children, and that, to paraphrase Dr. King, it’s time for all of us to atone for our silences.

The context of this crisis isn’t simply historical, it is current, and acknowledging this does not have to bring the children at the border out of focus. It can put their plight in a larger context, and without that context, there can be no strategy that doesn’t come at the expense of others. For years, the right has successfully played our communities against one another, internally and externally, as we quarrel over who is “innocent” and who is not. It’s time to stop playing into their script and to start writing a new page.

So, let’s say it together this time: We will fight for every child and to empty every cage. We will take this thing on in its totality, and this time, we will leave no one behind.

The post The Nightmare Is Now: Stolen Children in a Country of Cages appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Charlottesville Continues to Be a Battlefield Between Far-Right Forces and Protesters

Wed, 06/20/2018 - 13:52

Welcome to Interviews for Resistance. We’re now more than a year into the Trump administration, and activists have scored some important victories in those months. Yet there is always more to be done, and for many people, the question of where to focus and how to help remains. In this series, we talk with organizers, agitators and educators not only about how to resist but also about how to build a better world. Today’s interview is the 127th in the series. Click here for the most recent interview before this one.

Today we bring you a conversation with Molly,* an activist in Charlottesville, Virginia. Molly discusses updates on trials of Charlottesville protesters, how local activists are facing resistance from the city in the creation of a police civilian review board and what actions are coming to Charlottesville this summer.

Sarah Jaffe: What has it been like on the ground … nearly a year since the multiple white supremacist rallies arrived in Charlottesville and drew everybody’s attention?

Molly: The simplest way to answer that is that it is not over. People refer to Charlottesville as an event, as that one day, but what is going on here didn’t stat on August 11 or 12 [2017] and it didn’t end there. We are still dealing with not just the repercussions of that day, but the systemic conditions that caused it. They picked our town for a reason.

One of the things that is not over is that Corey Long — who became very famous very briefly for the photograph of him defending someone against white supremacists armed with all sorts of things — was convicted this week. Can you tell us of what and why and how?

There were two charges for Corey’s trial last week. It was a misdemeanor assault charge and a disorderly conduct charge. The assault was no process, which means they didn’t prosecute it at the trial because the complaining witness could not be reached by the commonwealth. The prosecutor was have trouble getting in touch with Harold Crews, who is the North Carolina chairman of the League of the South, which is one of the more established white supremacist hate groups. That charge didn’t end up getting pursued, but he was convicted of the disorderly conduct for — we have all seen that picture of him with the flamethrower. He was defending himself against Richard Preston and some others. Richard Preston is a Klan leader from Maryland who recently pleaded no contest to a felony for discharging a firearm at Corey at that time….

It is interesting to see the way that these prosecutions have happened. This is not the first person who was defending himself or was just straight up assaulted by a white supremacist at the rally who then has faced charges.

DeAndre Harris was prosecuted as well. Again, we have all seen those photographs of DeAndre’s gruesome injuries. He was assaulted by a gang of white supremacists. He was prosecuted … and acquitted in March. I don’t know if it is just a matter of people looking at the two of them and one of them is a more “worthy” victim, because DeAndre suffered injuries. I am not sure what the difference was, because in both cases, the commonwealth attorney — the prosecutor in Charlottesville, Joe Platania — he sort of soft-pedaled both cases.

In DeAndre’s trial, his closing argument sounded like he was making the defense’s closing argument. If you didn’t want to prosecute this, you had the option to not do that. In that case, it worked. The judge acquitted him. These were bench trials. They were misdemeanors. Our district court judge, Judge Downer, was the one making these calls. But again, Platania sort of soft-pedaled this. It really seemed like he was going out of his way to make it clear that he didn’t think Corey did anything wrong, but that is not how prosecutorial discretion works. You don’t get to prosecute the case and act like you didn’t want to. If you didn’t want to, you didn’t have to.

You mentioned the one particular white supremacist … pleading guilty, but have there been other trials of the people who were there who were part of the rally and were assaulting people?

There have been a number of cases. I have attended quite a few trials lately. Three of the men who participated in the assault on DeAndre Harris have been identified and prosecuted. They are still searching for a couple of them. I don’t know how hard they are searching. The ones they did find were either turned in by their friends or identified by people like Shaun King, which police have conveniently not mentioned when they are put on the stand, in this case. But Jacob Goodwin, Alex Ramos and Daniel Borden have all been convicted….

In Virginia, juries make sentencing recommendations. For Ramos and Goodwin, those were jury trials. The jury made a recommendation for both of them, but ultimately the judge will hand down the sentence in August for Ramos and Goodwin and in October for Gordon. Those three men could face up to 20 years in prison…. It is really hard to convince a lot of people that you were defending yourself when you are beating someone who is lying on the ground. They didn’t take kindly to that.

You mentioned that people … who are now known to be pretty unapologetic white supremacists are still finding ways to get money and support.

Yes, that is mind-blowing. There has been a lot of de-platforming and I think that is a really successful strategy. I think that is something we need to continue to hammer away on. There was a ThinkProgress article about a law firm in California that is processing donations for both Jason Kessler and Chris Cantwell, who your listeners may know better as “The Crying Nazi” from the Vice documentary. They have been quietly processing payments at least for Cantwell for months. He mentions it on his podcast three times a week.

When I looked at this last summer, before all of this was going off, there was active Black Lives Matter organizing in Charlottesville, there were actions around the police, working for a police review board and looking to change the culture broadly there. Tell us what has been going on, on the proactive front.

We are moving toward the successful establishment of a police civilian review board (CRB). It is not going 100 percent according to plan because things never do, but at our last city council meeting, they announced the members of the first board.

Normally, boards and commissions in the city … people apply and they are appointed by council, but there is no discussion, there is no public involvement in the process. It just happens behind closed doors and they make the announcement. In this case, we got to have a public forum with all of the candidates for the CRB, people who put in their applications, people who live in the city, and we got to watch them answer questions. That was a big step. They had people fill out a survey after the forum for who we would like to see on the board. Then, they did not use the results of that survey to make their selections.

Obviously, they had no obligation to do so…. They were just surveying us. But the person with the most votes, the person that most people wanted to see on that board was Jeff Fogel, a local civil rights attorney who has been very vocal throughout this process…. His voice would be critical in this first round of the board. This first group of people on this board are going to write the bylaws. Excluding the civil rights attorney who was one of the loudest voices in calling for this board seems like an oversight. It was intentional and it sent a message. It said that city council does not want this board to have teeth. They don’t want these bylaws to be written by someone who knows what they are doing.

This is not the first time the city has targeted Jeff. He ran for commonwealth attorney last year and two weeks before the election, he was hauled out of his home in the middle of the night by the police on a simple assault charge that he was later acquitted of. That is not standard procedure. You do not go to an old man’s home in the middle of the night and drag him out of bed and take him to jail. There is a lot of animosity toward Jeff because he knows what he is doing.

We are making progress on the CRB, we are glad that it is moving forward, we are glad that the city has been at least somewhat receptive on the surface to the idea of having this, but in refusing to appoint two of the top three vote-getters — the other one being Rosia Parker, a local Black Lives Matter activist — that sends a message. We told you who we wanted and you explicitly did not select them because you don’t want their voices represented in that room and that means something.

I want to circle back to Corey Long because I wanted to ask what next steps are in his case, in particular, but also, I know that there were protests after the verdict, and that people were arrested during this protest.

… After Corey was convicted, the judge sentenced him to 360 days active confinement with 340 suspended. That is a 20-day sentence that you actually have to serve. Typically, around here, you serve half of a misdemeanor sentence. You serve 10 days. He has the option of serving it on weekends. So, he could serve five consecutive weekends. Again, the prosecutor requested during sentencing that there be no active incarceration and the judge chose to sentence him to that anyways. Typically, if both the prosecutor and the defense agree on what the sentence should be, the judge just goes with that. He was choosing to send a message here.

… It is the same speech every time. I have it written down maybe 20 times across six notebooks. “The whole day was very chaotic, very unfortunate. It cost the city its reputation. We went from a world class city to the city where this happened. This behavior is very serious. We have limited resources for keeping people incarcerated.”

And yet, you still chose to sentence Corey to active incarceration. And the fact that he chose that moment to say that, “What really was damaged here was our city’s reputation.” Not that this young man’s life was in danger. Not that someone died. Three people died…. But, “This city’s reputation was damaged and it is important to send a message.” This young man who defended himself against a known imperial wizard in the Ku Klux Klan was sentenced to serve jail time and 100 hours of community service and two years of good behavior and up to one year of active supervision by offender aid and restoration.

He already served this community. He serviced this community by protecting himself and protecting us on August 12. So, [that] Friday night, we gathered in Justice Park…. We were marching down the downtown mall … chanting for Corey.

We were marching in the street and I have heard from activists around town that the police used to let us do that. They used to let us take the street because it was easier to just let us quickly move through the street like we were going to do and everyone can move on with their lives than it would be to arrest eight people, like they did on [that] Friday. All eight people were served … they were getting summonses for traffic violations. They are not criminal charges. It is pretty unusual to take people to jail for a traffic violation.

So, eight people were taken to jail, one of whom was Star, one of the people more seriously injured on August 12. She is still using a wheelchair…. These are people who are still very much living with what happened last August. They couldn’t figure out what to do with her and her wheelchair. They had already hauled off seven people and taken them to jail and she is just still in the street with her wheelchair telling them … “I am not moving.” I think it took more than an hour and they finally sent an ambulance from our all-volunteer EMS [Charlottesville-Albemarle Rescue Squad]…. These people did not have to do this. They do not work for the police. They came in that ambulance and they loaded that woman — a competent conscious person who did not need medical care and was not being taken to the hospital, into that ambulance. Which is, to me, a clear violation of medical ethics. It is appalling.

And within 48 hours, cars of Charlottesville-Albemarle Rescue Squad had updated their official policy that they will no longer transport patients to jail. It makes a difference. What they did was wrong. But there was community outrage and they recognized what they did was wrong and they changed their policy.

We all went to the jail Friday night to wait for our people to get out because that is what you do. When I arrived at the jail, an officer approached my car while I was parking and told me that I should maybe try and talk to my people….

They had locked the doors to the magistrate’s office so that no one could get in and they weren’t letting attorneys in. They weren’t letting Jeff Fogel in to see his clients and at no point did any attorney actually gain access to the building to see their clients. These people were arrested and taken to jail for a traffic violation and denied access to representation. It is horrifying. And everyone was out within a couple of hours. No one seriously injured. But the way they put their hands on people for these arrests … I don’t think I will ever get used to seeing a cop kneel on someone I care about.

Is there any appeal for Corey Long?

That, I don’t know. I think he and his counsel are still mulling that over. So, in Virginia, you have [the] right to appeal to the circuit court. You have your misdemeanor bench trial in general district court and you can appeal to the circuit court. But the problem with that is if that circuit court judge — you get a whole new trial. That judge could decide, “Yeah, Judge Downer was right. We are going to stick with this. You are going to serve the 20 days.” Or he could say, “No, you are acquitted. You are free to go.” Or he could say, “I think you should serve the full year.” It is kind of a toss-up. You have to know your judge. You have to weigh that risk.

I don’t know what I would do in his position because Judge Moore is fairly conservative. He is the judge that issued the decision that we had to remove the tarps from the statues. If people aren’t familiar, our two Confederate statues in town that are the lightning rod for all of this, are [Robert E.] Lee and [Stonewall] Jackson statues. Our city council voted to shroud them in black tarps after the events of last August. In February, our circuit court judge, Judge Moore, ruled that shrouding those statues was causing irreparable harm to people [who] wanted to see them and they had to be removed. Irreparable harm. So, I don’t know that I would want him to do my appeal.

What are next steps going forward? What are people organizing around this summer? Are there any things that people outside of Charlottesville can support?

Some local folks have written a call to action. There are still a lot of unknowns here. The city is really sleeping on being proactive here. They are not moving forward as quickly as I would in their position. Jason Kessler is suing the city for a permit for that weekend and the city is not talking about it. The city has made no comment about this to my knowledge. But, from what Jason says, he expects a decision in that case in late July, which again, is so close to the anniversary. This is what happened last year. They were litigating it down to the wire and no one was ready.

People don’t know if Jason is going to get permits for August. I don’t know what will happen with that. He is saying he is trying to get backup permits for Lafayette Park in Washington, DC, which is ludicrous to me that they would give him a permit for directly outside the White House. I don’t imagine that happening….

But, what this community is asking is that people be ready to stand with us, whatever does end up happening. We can’t tell you what that is going to be yet, because we don’t know….

Back to the de-platforming. Zyniker Law is taking donations for those guys…. Kessler has a website … hosted by Cloudflare … if folks wanted to contact Cloudflare and let them know, Maybe, don’t let a Nazi organize for a Nazi rally on their web space, that would be great.

And we are still calling for the city to expunge Corey’s record and to drop the charges against Donald Blakney. Donald Blakney is another Black activist who is still facing charges from August 12, [2017]. His trial is at the end of August and I believe he is facing felony charges, which is ridiculous…. I don’t think he should be held accountable on felony charges for striking a Nazi in self-defense. We are calling for the city to free Corey Long, to drop the charges against Donald Blakney and for Joe Platania to step down. I don’t think he gets to play it both ways. He doesn’t get to press charges against activists and then wring his hands like he is sorry about it….

Both of our local prosecutors need to maybe step down and let someone maybe a little bit better step up. One more court date I want to mention is June 29, Jason Kessler is suing our friend Donna, a local activist, for hurting his feelings.

What?

It is an old anti-dueling statute that is still on the books in Virginia about words that incite violence. That if you live here, you defend someone’s honor and you make them duel you. Outside of DeAndre Harris’s trial, actually, in March, the courtroom filled up so Jason couldn’t get in. So, he was stuck outside with the crowd that was supporting DeAndre. A local activist [Donna] gave him a piece of her mind. I believe what was enshrined in his complaint was that she called him a “racist” and a “crybaby” and I guess that hurt his feelings real bad. So, he is suing her for $500. Which is a small amount of money. He is wasting so much time on such a small amount of money because he got his feelings hurt…. He is representing himself…. It will be a real treat if anyone can make it out for that to support Donna.

How can people keep up with you and what is going on in Charlottesville? And for people who are from outside who either can’t come to visit or would like to be supportive, how can they do that?

The only fund that I know of that has actually disbursed money to survivors and to activists in this community for bail funds and legal defense, medical bills, emergency housing — the only fund that is actually dispersing those moneys is the Charlottesville [Community] Resilience Fund…. That is @CVilleFund on Twitter, you can follow us there. They are a 501(c)4. They are run by activists in this community. It is all volunteer, horizontal decision-making…. They are actually helping people here in this community and that would be a great place to send your money if you have money to send.

There is a local media collective that is doing incredible work, Solidarity CVille. You can follow them on Twitter at @SolidCVille. They are covering stuff around town. You can follow me if you wanted to … I am at @SocialistDogMom…. You can also find me on Patreon.

*Molly preferred not to share her legal last name since she has been targeted by far-right activists.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Interviews for Resistance is a project of Sarah Jaffe, with assistance from Laura Feuillebois and support from the Nation Institute. It is also available as a podcast on iTunes. Not to be reprinted without permission.

The post Charlottesville Continues to Be a Battlefield Between Far-Right Forces and Protesters appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Noam Chomsky on Fascism, Showmanship and Democrats’ Hypocrisy in the Trump Era

Wed, 06/20/2018 - 13:40

After 18 months of Trump in the White House, American politics finds itself at a crossroads. The United States has moved unmistakably toward a novel form of fascism that serves exclusively corporate interests and the military, while promoting at the same time a highly reactionary social agenda infused with religious and crude nationalistic overtones, all with an uncanny touch of political showmanship. In this exclusive Truthout interview, world-renowned linguist and public intellectual Noam Chomsky analyzes some of the latest developments in Trumpistan and their consequences for democracy and world order.

C.J. Polychroniou: Noam, I want to start by asking for your reading of what took place at the Singapore summit, and the way this event was covered in the US media.

Noam Chomsky: It’s reminiscent of Sherlock Holmes and the dog that didn’t bark. What was important was what didn’t happen. Unlike his predecessors, Trump did not undermine the prospects for moving forward. Specifically, he did not disrupt the process initiated by the two Koreas in their historic April 27 [Panmunjom] Declaration, in which they “affirmed the principle of determining the destiny of the Korean nation on their own accord” (repeat: on their own accord), and for the first time presented a detailed program as to how to proceed. It is to Trump’s credit that he did not undermine these efforts, and in fact made a move toward facilitating them by cancelling the US-South Korean war games, which, as he correctly said, are “very provocative.” We would certainly not tolerate anything of the sort on our borders – or anywhere on the planet – even if they were not run by a superpower which not long before had utterly devastated our country with the flimsiest of pretexts after the war was effectively over, glorying in the major war crimes it had committed, like bombing major dams, after there was nothing else to bomb.

Beyond the achievement of letting matters proceed, which was not slight, no “diplomatic skills” were involved in Trump’s triumph.

The coverage has been quite instructive, in part because of the efforts of the Democrats to outflank Trump from the right. Beyond that, the coverage across the spectrum illustrates quite well two distinct kinds of deceit: lying and not telling relevant truths. Each merits comment.

Trump is famous for the former, and his echo chamber is as well. Liberal commentators exult in totting up and refuting Trump’s innumerable lies and distortions, much to his satisfaction since it provides the opportunity for him to fire up his loyal — by now almost worshipful — base with more evidence of how the hated “Establishment” is using every possible underhanded means to prevent their heroic leader from working tirelessly to defend them from a host of enemies.

A canny politician, Trump surely understands well that the base on which he relies, by now almost the entire Republican Party, has drifted to a surreal world, in part under his influence. Take the major Trump-Ryan legislative achievement, the tax scam — “The US Donor Relief Act of 2017,” as Joseph Stiglitz termed it. It had two transparent aims: to enrich the very wealthy and the corporate sector while slamming everyone else, and to create a huge deficit. The latter achievement — as the main architect of the scam Paul Ryan helpfully explained — provides the opportunity to realize the cherished goal of reducing benefits that serve the general population, already very weak by comparative standards, but still an unacceptable infringement on the prerogatives of the 1%. The congressional Joint Committee on Taxation estimates that the law will add $1 trillion to deficits over the next decade. Virtually every economist generally agrees. But not 80 percent of Republican voters, of whom half believe that the deficit will be reduced by the gift their leader has lavished upon them.

Or consider something vastly more significant, attitudes toward global warming (apologies for the obscenity: climate change), which poses a severe threat to organized human life, and not in the distant future.

Half of Republicans believe that what is plainly happening is not happening, bolstered by virtually the entire leadership of the Party, as the Republican Primary debates graphically revealed. Of the half who concede that the real world exists, barely half think that humans play a role in the process.

Such destructive responses tend to break through the surface during periods of distress and fear, very widespread feelings today, for good reason: A generation of neoliberal policies has sharply concentrated wealth and power while leaving the rest to stagnate or decline, often joining the growing precariat. In the US, the richest country in history with unparalleled advantages, over 40 percent of the population don’t earn enough to afford a monthly budget that includes housing, food, child care, health care, transportation and a cell phone. And this is happening in what’s called a “booming economy.”

Productivity has risen through the neoliberal period, even if not as much as before, but wages have stagnated or declined as wealth is funneled to a few bulging pockets. Distress is so severe that among white middle-aged Americans, mortality is actually increasing, something unheard of in functioning societies apart from war or pestilence. There are similar phenomena in Europe under the “business first” (“neoliberal”/”austerity”) assault.

Returning to forms of deceit, one technique is simply lying, honed to a high art by the Maestro. Another technique is not telling parts of the “whole story” that matter.

To illustrate, consider the analysis of “Trump’s claims about the North Korea deal” by the expert and highly competent fact-checker of The Washington Post, Glenn Kessler. His article originally ran under the title of “Not the Whole Story,” with the title presented in extra-large letters to emphasize the ignominy. Kessler’s acid (and accurate) critique of Trump’s distortions and inventions opens by declaring (again correctly) that “North Korea has a long history of making agreements and then not living up to its obligations,” citing the most crucial case, the September 2005 US-North Korea agreement (under six-power auspices), in which, in the official wording, “The DPRK [North Korea] committed to abandoning all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs and returning, at an early date, to the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons and to IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] safeguards.”

As Kessler points out, the North Koreans did not live up to these promises, and in fact, soon returned to producing nuclear weapons. Obviously, they can’t be trusted.

But this is “Not the Whole Story.” There is a rather significant omission: Before the ink was dry on the agreement, the US undermined it. To repeat the unwanted facts from our earlier discussion of the matter, “the Bush administration broke the agreement. It renewed the threat of force, froze North Korean funds in foreign banks and disbanded the consortium that was to provide North Korea with a light-water reactor. Bruce Cumings, the leading US Korea scholar, writes that ‘the sanctions were specifically designed to destroy the September pledges [and] to head off an accommodation between Washington and Pyongyang’.” The whole story is well-known to scholarship, but somehow doesn’t reach the public domain.

Kessler is a fine and careful journalist. His evasion of “the whole story” appears to be close to exceptionless in the media. Every article on the matter by The New York Times security and foreign policy experts is the same, as far as I’ve seen. The practice is so uniform that it is almost unfair to pick out examples. To choose only one, again from a fine journalist, Washington Post specialist on Korea Anna Fifield writes that North Korea “signed a denuclearization agreement” in 2005, but didn’t stick to the agreement (omitting the fact that this was a response to Washington’s breaking the agreement). “So perhaps the wisest course of action,” she continues, “would be to bet that it won’t abide by this one, either.” And to complete the picture with a banned phrase, “So perhaps the wisest course of action would be to bet that [Washington] won’t abide by this one, either.”

There are endless laments about the deceitfulness and unreliability of the North Koreans; many are cited in Gareth Porter’s review of media coverage. But it would be hard to find a word about the rest of the story. This is only one case.

I don’t incidentally suggest that the deceit is conscious. Much more likely, it’s just the enormous power of conformity to convention, to what Gramsci called hegemonic “common sense.” Some ideas are not even rejected; they are unthinkable. Like the idea that US aggression is aggression; it can only be “a mistake,” “a tragic error,” “a strategic blunder.” I also don’t want to suggest this is “American exceptionalism.” It’s hard to find an exception to the practice in the history of imperialism.

So far, at least, Trump has kept from disrupting the agreement of the two Koreas. Of course, all of this is accompanied by boasts about his amazing deal-making abilities, and the brilliance of his skillful tactics of threatening “fire and fury” in order to bring the dictator to the negotiating table. There are many accolades by others across the spectrum for this triumph — which is about on a par with the standard claims that Obama’s harsh sanctions forced Iran to capitulate by signing the joint agreement on nuclear weapons, claims effectively refuted by Trita Parsi (Losing an Enemy). Whatever the factual basis, such claims are necessary to justify harsh measures against official enemies and to reinforce the general principle that what we do is right (with occasional tragic errors).

In the present case too, there is good evidence that the truth is almost the opposite of the standard claims, and that the harsh US stance has impeded progress toward peaceful settlement. There have been many opportunities in addition to the 2005 agreement. In 2013, in a meeting with senior US diplomats, North Korean officials outlined steps toward denuclearization. One of those who attended the meeting, former US official and Stimson Center Senior Fellow Joel Wit reports that, “Not surprisingly, for the North Koreans, the key to denuclearization was that the United States had to end its ‘hostile policy’.”

While the US maintains its threatening stance, the North Korean leadership — “not surprisingly” — has sought “to develop a nuclear arsenal as a shield to deter the US while they moved to develop the economy.” The North Korean government, in June 2013, “issued an important new pronouncement that it was open to negotiations on denuclearization,” Wit writes, adding that, “The Obama administration dismissed it at the time as propaganda.” He adds further that “the North Koreans have given a great deal of thought to denuclearization and almost certainly have a concrete plan of action for the upcoming [Singapore] summit, whether the White House does or not.” In fact, at the 2013 meetings, “the North Korean officials actually laid out a concrete plan to achieve denuclearization,” Wit reports.

Not the only case. China’s “double freeze” proposal, supported by Russia, Germany and others, has been on the table for years, rejected by Washington — until the Singapore summit.

Trump’s diplomacy, such as it is, has been subjected to withering attack, especially by liberal opinion: How could the US president agree to meet on friendly terms with a brutal dictator? How could he fail to demand that North Korea end its human rights violations, which are indeed horrendous?

Willingness to look at “the whole story” suggests some other questions, of course unasked — in fact, unthinkable: How could Kim agree to meet on friendly terms with the head of the state that world opinion overwhelmingly regards as the greatest threat to peace? How could North Korea fail to demand that the US end its human rights violations, also horrendous? Has North Korea done anything remotely like invading Iraq, the worst crime of this century? Or destroying Libya? Has it been condemned by the ICJ [International Court of Justice] for international terrorism (“unlawful use of force”)? And a lot more that is easy enough to reel off.

It made perfect sense for North Korea not to bring up US crimes as a condition for moving forward. The proper goal of the meeting was to expedite the efforts of the two Koreas to pursue the directions outlined in their April 27 Declaration. And the argument cuts both ways.

Interestingly enough, while Trump seeks to appease his political doppelgänger in Pyongyang, he has succeeded in alienating most of the US’s major Western allies, including Canada, France and Germany. Is this the consequence of his alleged foreign policy doctrine “We are America, bitch”?

There are extensive efforts to try to discern some coherent doctrine that guides Trump’s behavior, but I suspect it’s a fool’s errand. A very good predictor of Trump policy is [his fixation on] … reversing anything associated with the despised “Kenyan Muslim” he replaced: in foreign policy, tearing up the successful Iran deal and accepting the long-standing possibilities for addressing the serious North Korea crisis (proclaiming to have created an astonishing breakthrough). Much the same is true of other actions that look like random shots when the driving forces are ignored.

All of this has to be done while satisfying the usual Republican constituencies: primarily the business world and the rich. For Trump, that also means unleashing the more brutal wing of the Republican Party so that they can dedicate themselves even beyond the norm to the interest of private wealth and corporate power. Here the technique is to capture the media with attention-grabbing antics, which can be solemnly exposed while the game goes on — so far, quite effectively.

Then comes the task of controlling the so-called “populist” base: the angry, frightened, disillusioned white population, primarily males. Since there is no way for Trumpism to deal with their economic concerns, which are actually being exacerbated by current policy-formation, it’s necessary to posture heroically as “standing up” for them against “malevolent forces” and to cater to the anti-social impulses that tend to surface when people are left to face difficult circumstances alone, without institutions and organizations to support them in their struggles. That’s also being done effectively for the time being.

The “We are America, bitch” posture appeals to chauvinistic instincts and the white supremacy that is a deeply rooted feature of American culture and is now exacerbated by concern that whites might even become a minority. The posture can also delude working people into believing that their tough-guy protector will bring back the world they’ve lost. Such propaganda exercises cannot, of course, target those actually responsible for the plight of the victims of neoliberal globalization. On the contrary, attention has to be diverted away from corporate managers who largely shape state policy while establishing complex global supply chains to maximize profit at the expense of working people. More appropriate targets are desperate people fleeing horrors for which we are largely responsible: “foreigners” who have been “robbing us” with the connivance of “treacherous liberals” and other assorted devils that can be conjured up in periods of social breakdown.

Allies, friends, who cares? There is no need for policies that are “coherent” in any traditional sense. Consequences don’t matter as long as the primary goals are met.

After months of harsh rhetoric against China’s trade practices, Trump has decided to impose tariffs of $50 billion on Chinese imports, prompting Beijing, subsequently, to declare that the US has embarked on a trade war and to announce in turn that it will retaliate with similar measures against US imports. First, isn’t it true that China is merely practicing today the same sort of mercantilist policies that the US and Great Britain practiced in the past on their way to global ascendancy? Second, is the targeting of tariffs expected to have any impact either on China’s economy or on the size of the US trade deficit? And lastly, if a new era of protectionism is about to take off, what could the consequences of such development be for the reign of global neoliberalism?

Several questions arise. First, what is Trump’s motive? If it were concern about China’s economic management and trade policies, he wouldn’t be going out of his way to alienate allies with tariffs and insults but would be joining with them to confront China on the issues of concern. If, however, the driving force is what I discussed earlier, then targeting both China and allies with abuse and tariffs has a certain logic: It may play well in the rust belt, contributing to the delusion that our hero is fighting to ensure jobs for working people — though it’s a tricky strategy, because it harms other parts of his loyal base, mainly farmers, and also, though more subtly, because it imposes a new tax on consumption, which is what tariffs amount to.

As for China’s economic policies, yes, they are similar to those that have been used by developed societies generally, beginning with Britain and then its former North American colony. Similar, but more limited. China lacks the means available to its predecessors. Britain stole superior technology from India, the Low Countries, Ireland, and by force and severe protectionism, undermined the Indian economy, then the world’s most advanced along with China. The US, under the Hamiltonian system, resorted to high tariffs to bar superior British goods, and also took British technology in ways barred by the current US-initiated global trading system. Economic historian Paul Bairoch describes the US as “the mother country and bastion of protectionism” into the 1920s, well after it had become far and away the richest country in the world.

The general practice is called “kicking away the ladder” by economic historians: first use the practices to develop, then bar others from following.

Earlier, Britain’s economic development relied on large-scale piracy, now considered by its former practitioner to be the most heinous of crimes. Keynes wrote that the booty of English pirates, like the famed and admired Sir Francis Drake, “may fairly be considered the fountain and origin of British foreign investments.” Piracy was also a standard practice in the American colonies. Both British and US economies also relied crucially on the most hideous system of slavery in human history. Cotton was the oil of the industrial revolution, providing the basis for manufacturing, finance, commerce, retail. Such practices are not available to China.

Like Britain before it, the US called for “free trade” when it recognized that the playing field was tilted properly in its direction. After World War II, when the US had incomparable power, it promoted the “liberal world order” that has been an enormous boon to the US corporate system, which now owns about half of the global economy, an astonishing policy success.

Again, following the British model, the US hedged its commitment to “free trade” for the benefit of domestic private power. The British-dominated “free trade” system kept India as a largely closed protectorate. The US-dominated system imposes an extreme patent system (“intellectual property”) that provides virtual monopoly power to major US industries. The US government also provides huge subsidies to energy industries, agribusiness and financial institutions. While the US complains about Chinese industrial policy, the modern high-tech industry has relied crucially on research and development in the publicly subsidized sector of the economy, to such an extent that the economy might fairly be regarded as a system of private subsidy, private profit. And there are many other devices to subsidize industry. Procurement, for example, has been shown to be a significant device. In fact, the enormous military system alone, through procurement, provides a huge state subsidy to industry. These comments only skim the surface.

Britain abandoned laissez-faire when it could no longer compete with Japanese competition, part of the background for World War II in the Pacific. Some in the US are having similar qualms today, concerns that Trump is cynically exploiting. But not the powerful corporate sector that relies crucially on the US-designed global economic order.

The corporate sector relies so extensively on the global economy it has designed that it is sure to use its enormous power to try to head off a major trade war. The Trump tariffs and the retaliation might escalate, but it’s likely that the threat will be contained. Trump is quite right, however, in proclaiming that the US would “win” a limited trade war, given the scale of the US economy, the huge domestic market and unique advantages in other respects. The “We are America, bitch” doctrine is a powerful weapon of intimidation.

The Trump administration is moving full speed ahead with its intent on cracking down on unauthorized entries to the country by separating immigrant children from their parents. More than 2,000 children have been separated from their parents during the last seven weeks, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions sought recently to justify Trump’s immigration policy by citing a verse from the Bible. What can one say about an advanced Western society in which religion continues to crowd out reason in shaping public policy and public attitudes? And didn’t the Nazis, although they were no believers, also use Christianity to justify their immoral and criminal acts?

The immigration policy, always grotesque, has descended to levels so revolting that even many of those who foster and exploit xenophobia are running for cover — like Trump, who is desperately trying to blame it on the Democrats, and like the First Lady, who is appealing to “both sides of the aisle” to come together to stop the obscenity. We should, however, not overlook the fact that Europe is crawling through much the same gutters.

One can quote scripture for almost any purpose one likes. Sessions doubtless knows that “all the law” hangs on two commandments: loving God and “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” But that is not the appropriate thought for the occasion.

It is true, however, that the US is unique among developed societies in the role of religion in social life, ever since the Puritans landed.

Recently, Trump stated that he had the absolute right to pardon himself (after he had already said that he could shoot someone on New York’s 5th Avenue and not lose any support), while his lawyer, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, said the president could even commit murder in the Oval Office and still not be prosecuted for it. Your thoughts?

After praising Kim [Jong Un] effusively as a strong leader who “speaks and his people sit up at attention,” Trump added: “I want my people to do the same.” When the predictable reaction followed, he said he was kidding. Maybe. I hope we don’t have an opportunity to find out.

While it is clear that the country is well on its way to becoming a pariah nation, the Democrats continue to focus their attention primarily on Trump’s alleged collusion with Russia and unethical behavior, all the while trying to outflank the president on the jingoist front, adopting new restrictions for the 2020 elections so they can keep away the likes of Bernie Sanders, and of course, playing masterfully the fundraising game that works in a plutocracy. With all this in mind, how would you describe the nature of contemporary US politics?

Much as in Europe, the centrist political institutions in the United States, which have long been in the driver’s seat, are in decline. The reasons are not obscure. People who have endured the rigors of the neoliberal assault — austerity in the recent European version — recognize that the institutions are working for others, not for them. In the US, people do not have to read academic political science to know that a large majority, those who are not near the top of the income scale, are effectively disenfranchised, in that their own representatives pay little attention to their views, hearkening rather to the voices of the rich, the donor class. In Europe, anyone can see that basic decisions are made by the unelected Troika, in Brussels, with the northern banks peering over their shoulders.

In the US, respect for Congress has long been hovering in single digits. In recent Republican primaries, when candidates emerged from the base, the Establishment was able to beat them down and obtain their own candidate. In 2016, that failed for the first time. True, it’s not far from the norm for a billionaire with enormous media support and almost $1 billion in campaign funding to win an election, but Trump was hardly the choice of the Republican elites. The most spectacular result of the election was not the Trump phenomenon. Rather, it was the remarkable success of Bernie Sanders, breaking sharply with US political history. With no support from big business or the media, Sanders might well have won the Democratic nomination had it not been for the machinations of Obama-Clinton party managers. Similar processes are apparent in recent European elections.

Like it or not, Trump is doing quite well. He has the support of 83 percent of Republicans, which is without precedent apart from rare moments. Whatever their feelings may be, Republicans dare not cross him openly. His general support in the low 40s is not far from the norm, about the same as Obama’s going into his first midterm. He is lavishing gifts on the business world and the wealthy, the authentic constituency of the Republicans (with the Democrat leadership not far behind). He has thrown enough crumbs to keep the Evangelicals happy and has struck the right chords for racist/white supremacy elements. And he has, so far, managed to convince coal miners and steel workers that he is one of them. In fact, his support among union members has increased to 51 percent.

It is hardly in doubt that Trump cares almost nothing about the fate of the country or the world. What matters is me. That’s clear enough from his attitude toward global warming. He is perfectly well aware of the dire threat — to his properties. His application for a seawall to protect his Irish golf course is based explicitly on the threat of global warming. But pursuit of power impels him to lead the race to destruction, quite happily, as is evident from his performances. The same holds of other serious, if lesser, threats, among them the threat that the country may be isolated, despised, declining — with dues to pay after it’s no longer his concern.

The Democrats are now torn between a popular base that is largely social democratic and a New Democrat leadership that panders to the donor class. Under Obama, the party was reduced to shambles at the local and state level, a particularly serious matter because the 2020 elections will determine redistricting, offering opportunities for gerrymandering even beyond today’s scandalous situation.

The bankruptcy of the Democrat elite is well-illustrated by the obsession with alleged Russian meddling with our sacred elections. Whatever it might amount to — apparently very little — it cannot begin to compare with the “meddling” of campaign funding, which largely determines electoral outcomes, as extensive research has shown, particularly the careful work of Thomas Ferguson, which he and his colleagues have now extended to the 2016 elections. As Ferguson points out, when Republican elites realized that it was going to be Trump or Clinton, they responded with a huge wave of last-minute money that not only led to Clinton’s late October decline but also had the same effect on Democratic candidates for Senate, “virtually in lock step.” It is “outlandish,” Ferguson observes, that former FBI Director James Comey or the Russians “could be responsible for both collapses” in the final stage of the campaign: “For the first time in the entire history of the United States, the partisan outcome of Senate races coincided perfectly with the results of every state’s presidential balloting.” The outcome conforms very well to Ferguson’s well-supported “Investment theory of party competition.”

But facts and logic matter little. The Democrats are bent on revenge for their 2016 failure, having run such a rotten campaign that what looked like a “sure thing” collapsed. Evidently, Trump’s severe assault against the common good is a lesser matter, at least to the party elite.

It’s sometimes been noted that the US not only regularly meddles in foreign elections, including Russian ones, but also proceeds to subvert and sometimes overthrow governments it doesn’t like. Horrifying consequences abound, to the present, from Central America to the Middle East. Guatemala has been a horror story since a US-backed coup overthrew its elected reformist government in 1954. Gaza, declining in misery, may become unlivable by 2020, the UN predicts, not by acts of God. In 2006, Palestinians committed a grave crime: They ran the first free election in the Arab world, and made the “wrong” choice, handing power to Hamas. Israel reacted by escalating violence and a brutal siege. The US reverted to standard operating procedure and prepared a military coup, pre-empted by Hamas. In punishment for this new crime, US-Israeli torture of Gaza sharply increased, not only with strangulation but also regular murderous and destructive US-backed Israeli invasions, on pretexts that quickly collapse on examination. Elections that come out the wrong way plainly cannot be tolerated under our policy of “democracy promotion.”

In recent European elections, there has been much concern about possible Russian meddling. That was particularly true of the 2017 German elections, when the far-right party Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) did surprisingly well, winning 94 seats in the Bundestag, the first time it had won seats. One can easily imagine the reaction had Russian meddling been detected behind these frightening results. It turns out that there was indeed foreign meddling, but not from Russia. AfD hired a Texas media firm (Harris Media) known for support of right-wing nationalist candidates (Trump, Le Pen, Netanyahu). The firm enlisted the cooperation of the Berlin office of Facebook, which provided it with detailed information about potential voters for use in microtargeting those who might be receptive to AfD’s message. It may have worked. The story seems to have been ignored, apart from the business press.

If the Democratic Party cannot overcome its deep internal problems and the slow expansion of the economy under Obama and Trump continues without disruption or disaster, the Republican wrecking ball may be swinging away at the foundations of a decent society, and at the prospects for survival, for a long time.

The post Noam Chomsky on Fascism, Showmanship and Democrats’ Hypocrisy in the Trump Era appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

Caged Children and Terrified Infants: Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee Describes “Acts of Indecency” at Border

Tue, 06/19/2018 - 16:10

President Trump is continuing to blame Democrats for his administration’s practice of separating at least 2,000 children from their parents in recent weeks. He also doubled down on the practice in an address Monday, ahead of his meetings today with Republicans to discuss compromise legislation on a hardline immigration bill. We speak with Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee, Democrat of Texas. She has represented the 18th Congressional District since 1995, which includes most of central Houston. She is just back from the Texas border with Mexico, where she joined a delegation of lawmakers who visited a processing center in McAllen, Texas, and the Southwest Key Programs’ Casa Padre, which houses 1,500 children in Brownsville, Texas.

Please check back later for full transcript.

The post Caged Children and Terrified Infants: Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee Describes “Acts of Indecency” at Border appeared first on Truthout.

Categories: News

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